Michelle Chester, director of employee health services at Northwell Health, holds a bottle containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital in Valley Stream, N.Y., on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool via AP

Michelle Chester, director of employee health services at Northwell Health, holds a bottle containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Valley Stream hospital in Valley Stream, N.Y., on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool via AP

Health Canada authorizes Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine

OTTAWA — Canada is set to start receiving a second COVID-19 vaccine in the coming days after Health Canada on Wednesday declared the new inoculation from U.S. biotech firm Moderna safe for use.

Health Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Supriya Sharma told a news conference in Ottawa that up to 168,000 doses will be delivered by the end of December, with more arriving next year.

“After assessing all the data, we concluded that there was strong evidence that showed the benefits of this vaccine outweigh the potential risks,” Sharma said.

“Today’s authorization is one more tool in our toolbox to bring COVID-19 under control,” she later added.

Moderna is the second COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by Health Canada after regulators greenlit the Pfizer-BioNtech inoculation on Dec. 9. Moderna anticipates starting shipments to Canada within 48 hours.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is scheduled to provide an update this afternoon, while government and public-health officials are scheduled to provide details on their plans to distribute the shots.

The Moderna approval comes amid a surge in new COVID-19 cases across Canada, with a record number of infections in Quebec even as Ontario was preparing for a provincewide lockdown on Boxing Day.

Quebec reported 2,247 new infections – one day after it posted 2,183 new cases, which was a record at the time.

While the Pfizer vaccine has already started to be distributed in different cities across Canada, Sharma indicated the Moderna inoculation will likely be distributed to more remote communities.

That is because it does not require the same level of extreme-cold storage as the Pfizer version.

“Since many Canadians live outside major urban areas, this vaccine can be used in communities that haven’t had access to COVID-19 vaccines to date,” Sharma said.

The first doses are prioritized for front-line health staff, residents and workers in long-term care, adults in remote Indigenous communities, and seniors over the age of 80 living in the community.

Yukon’s minister of health said Wednesday that immunization clinics will begin in the territory in the first week of January.

Pauline Frost described the Moderna approval as the “exciting news Yukoners have been waiting for.”

She said delivery of 7,200 doses, expected by the end of this month, will be enough to allow 3,600 residents of the territory to receive the two doses needed to provide immunity against the virus.

Canada is to get 40 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine in 2021, enough to vaccinate 20 million people, or about two-thirds of the Canadian adult population.

The vaccine is not yet recommended for use on children as tests on adolescents only began in December and tests on children younger than 12 won’t begin until next year.

Moderna will have to continue to provide information to the regulator on the safety of the vaccine, Sharma said.

People with severe allergies have been advised against getting the Pfizer vaccine after several people in the United Kingdom had reactions to the inoculation. Sharma said the same advice is being given for the Moderna inoculation.

Canada’s doses of the Moderna vaccine are being made in Europe.

Two more vaccines are being reviewed by Health Canada, one from AstraZeneca and the other from Johnson and Johnson, Sharma said, but more information is needed before they can be approved.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press