Canada approves Johnson & Johnson vaccine

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Andy Blatchford and Maura Forrest
·3 min read
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OTTAWA — Canada has approved Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine, a step expected to accelerate a rollout that has lagged behind many of the country’s peers.

Health Canada’s green light Friday for Johnson & Johnson follows its approval of coronavirus vaccines from AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech.

In another piece of good news, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced Friday that Pfizer has agreed to an earlier delivery of 3.5 million vaccine doses to Canada. Canada is now expected to receive 8 million vaccines by the end of March, up from the 6 million that Trudeau has been promising for months, as well as an additional million doses in both April and May.

"We will continue to work around the clock to make sure Canadians get vaccinated as quickly as possible," Trudeau said during a news conference in Ottawa.

Trudeau would not commit to getting all Canadians vaccinated earlier than September, which has been his government's goal for the past several months. But he hinted it might be possible to beat that target.

“We have reasons to be optimistic we're going to be able to move things forward, but at the same time, we also know these are global supply chains that are being set up and there are always possibilities for disruptions," he said. "It is possible that we have further good news and good predictions to share in the coming weeks."

The vaccine: The Johnson & Johnson jab is the first single-dose vaccine authorized by Health Canada.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada's chief medical adviser, said the agency determined the vaccine’s efficacy rate is 66 percent and it can be stored at temperatures between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius for up to three months.

Picking up the pace: Health Canada’s decision comes a week after the Food and Drug Administration authorized the emergency use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, and a week after Canada approved the AstraZeneca shot.

Johnson & Johnson has not yet committed to a delivery schedule, but has promised to supply 10 million doses to Canada by the end of September, Trudeau said.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Canada will receive 36.5 million doses by the end of June, not including vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, though she said both companies will begin delivering doses during the second quarter. In total, Canada will receive 117.9 million doses by the end of September, she said.

COVAX controversy: Canada is expecting to receive 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, including nearly 2 million through the COVAX facility, which was set up to ensure an equitable distribution of vaccines around the world, especially to developing countries. The Liberals have been criticized for taking doses from COVAX when many poorer countries have limited access to vaccines.

Asked Friday if the approval of the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines mean that Canada will no longer need to take vaccines through COVAX, Anand was non-committal, saying that COVAX accounts for a “very small proportion of the vaccines overall that Canada is receiving."

She said Canada will likely share its vaccines with other countries, given it's on track to receive many more than it needs. But those decisions will only be made once there's a "steady stream" of vaccines coming into Canada, she said.

Canada vs. Covid: Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said Friday that more than 2.1 million vaccines have so far been administered in Canada.

By comparison, 1.6 million Americans are being vaccinated daily, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Tam said this week's recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization that second vaccine doses can be delayed by up to four months will help ensure that more Canadians are vaccinated sooner.