A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Health Canada not ready yet to greenlight AstraZeneca vaccine

OTTAWA — Health Canada is not yet ready to make a decision about approving the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca, more than two weeks after it signalled the ruling could be imminent.

The World Health Organization gave its seal of approval to AstraZeneca Monday, and if Health Canada follows suit, almost 500,000 doses could be shipped to Canada in March through the global vaccine-sharing program known as COVAX.

But Health Canada is still having a back and forth with the British-based company on the clinical data behind the vaccine.

“Health Canada continues to work with AstraZeneca to receive the information needed to complete its review,” said Kathleen Marriner, a spokeswoman for the department.

While it was expected AstraZeneca would be the third vaccine approved in Canada, it is now on the verge of being surpassed by Johnson and Johnson.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States is meeting to decide on approving that vaccine Feb. 26, and the European Medicines Agency expects to make a decision in early March. Health Canada has been collaborating with both on vaccine reviews for COVID-19.

“While each country makes independent decisions in keeping with its own processes, Health Canada is on similar timelines with the decisions of our key regulatory partners, once all of the data needed to make a decision has been received and reviewed,” Marriner said.

In addition to getting AstraZeneca doses from COVAX, Canada bought 20 million directly from the company, and 10 million doses from Johnson and Johnson. Deliveries of both would begin this spring if they get approved.

Nobody has yet approved Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine, but AstraZeneca has been authorized by more than two dozen jurisdictions. Only Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine has been approved in more places.

The FDA is waiting for a clinical trial of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the U.S. to be finished, but Europe authorized it Jan. 29. That decision prompted Health Canada to change its language from saying the AstraZeneca review was “ongoing”, to saying a decision would be announced “in the coming days.”

On Feb. 9, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said the review was in “the final stages,” just awaiting some final “back and forth” to finalize the rules for how the vaccine is to be used and on whom.

A week later, and there is still no sign that decision is imminent.

Sharma said the vaccine has been complicated to review because of a number of factors, including a mix-up in how big the doses were during the clinical trial and questions about how effective it is against new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19.

South Africa last week stopped using AstraZeneca’s vaccine completely, fearing it wasn’t doing enough to prevent people from getting sick from the B.1.351 variant that now dominates infections there.

The company was also challenged about what data it had on the effect the vaccine had in older adults, with fears not enough people over 65 were exposed to the virus after getting the vaccine to be certain of how well it protected them. Antibody tests, however, showed similar immune responses in people over 65 as was seen in younger people.

Many European countries, including France and Germany, authorized it only for use on people younger than 65. Several other countries have approved it for all age groups, including the United Kingdom, which has leaned heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine to get at least one dose to nearly 16 million people in just two months.

The World Health Organization’s approval this week is also for everyone over the age of 18.

The age decision is one factor that has been of concern to Health Canada, Sharma noted last week.

Canada has been falling down the list of countries in terms of how many people have been vaccinated, largely as deliveries of both vaccines approved here slowed in mid-January.

As of Wednesday afternoon, almost one million people have received at least one dose, with 335,000 of them having received the second needed dose. But the U.K. has vaccinated almost one in four people, and the United States about one in six.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand told a Canadian Chamber of Commerce event Wednesday that the delays did slow things down but that the worst is over.

“I think what you are going to see is the story on vaccinations is still being written,” she said. “Canada is going to see a very, very steep incline in the next weeks and months ahead.”

Pfizer-BioNTech’s delivery delays are now over, with 403,000 doses arriving this week and plans to ship three million over the next six weeks. Moderna intends to ship almost 1.5 million doses before the end of March.

Together the two companies are to ship 20.8 million doses in the spring and more than 50 million in the summer.

Pfizer’s deliveries did face another slight delay Monday, but this time weather was the culprit. A snowstorm in Louisville, Ky., prompted UPS to close its air hub there, pushing Canada’s deliveries back 24 to 36 hours.

Canada’s doses come from Belgium but are shipped via Kentucky. Health Canada says the shipments should all be in Canada by Friday.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Traffic will be delayed on 40th Avenue and 19th Street until the end of February. (Advocate file photo).
Traffic delays expected downtown this weekend

Red Deer drivers will be delayed in the downtown area of the… Continue reading

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read