A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, as the U.K. health authorities rolled out a national mass vaccination program. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

A nurse holds a phial of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, as the U.K. health authorities rolled out a national mass vaccination program. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

Health Canada authorizes use of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine

Canada becomes third country after the U.K. and Bahrain to approve the Pfizer vaccine

Canada has become the second country to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, just days after it was first approved in the U.K. Currently, Health Canada has authorized the vaccine for individuals aged 16 and older.

Canada is expected to get up to 249,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of December, with the first doses scheduled to come within a week of its Wednesday (Dec. 9) approval. Maj. Gen. Dany Fortin, vice president of logistics and operations at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said that Pfizer has indicated that vaccines could ship as soon as Friday. A dry run earlier this week showed that it takes about 36 hours from when the vaccine leaves Belgium till it arrives in Canada.

“It’s totally possible by mid-week next week,” Fortin said of when vaccines could begin to be administered.

B.C. is expected to get 4,000 doses out of this first shipments, enough to vaccinate 2,000 people. The news comes as at least 429,035 people have been infected with the virus in Canada and 12,867 have died.

Federal officials are expected to hold a briefing on the rollout and delivery of the vaccine later on Wednesday. The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept at at least -70C until it is within days of use and requires two doses given three weeks apart to reach its promised 95 per cent efficacy. It will be transported by Pfizer to 14 vaccination sites across the country.

Canada has purchased 20 million initial doses of the Pfizer vaccine, with the option to buy up to 76 million in total. The vaccine was authorized by an interim order, which sped up the approval process. Health Canada officials said that process allowed it to receive information to review about the vaccine as it came out.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said that the “benefits outweigh the risks” for the vaccine.

“The best vaccine is only effective if people agree to take it,” Sharma said, noting that both Pfizer and Health Canada will continue to monitor longer term effects of the vaccine.

“There might be people who are the early adopters, and people who are dead-set against it, but there are also people we call the ‘moveable middle.’”

Sharma noted that Canada is in contact with the U.K. over news of allergic reactions.

“We know that those were allergic reactions that happened quite close to after the individuals got the vaccine,” Sharma said. Both people have recovered, she noted. Pfizer’s clinical trial also had two allergic reactions; one in the placebo group and one in the group that received the vaccine.

“We know that with all vaccines there’s a risk of allergic reaction.”

Sharma said that Health Canada is advising people who have had allergic reactions to the vaccine’s ingredients, whether active or not, should not take the vaccine at this time.

How the vaccine will work

The four current priority groups are Canadians aged 80 and older, long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers and Indigenous peoples. However, immunocompromised people will not be able to get this vaccine, as it has not been tested on them.

The Pfizer shot is an mRNA vaccine designed to teach cells how to make a protein that will trigger an immune response without using the live COVID-19 virus. That immune response will trigger the body to make antibodies which are meant to protect it from catching the virus.

The vaccine will be given in two injected doses, given 21 days apart, of 0.3 millilitres through a syringe. According to Pfizer, its vaccine was about 95 per cent effective following studies in nearly 44,000 participants. The company said that level of immunity is reached at about seven days after the second dose.

According to both Pfizer and Health Canada, there have been “no major safety concerns.” More common side effects include pain at the site of injection, body chills, feeling tired and feeling feverish.

“These are common side effects of vaccines and do not pose a risk to health,” Health Canada said in a statement. The vaccine’s effectiveness is “consistent across age, gender, race and ethnicity demographics.”

Health Canada is also currently reviewing three other vaccines from Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen Inc. (owned by Johnson & Johnson). Moderna is expected to be the next vaccine to be approved in Canada, although health officials were unable to identify an exact date.

READ MORE: 4,000 high-risk British Columbians to receive 1st dose of COVID-19 vaccine next week: Horgan

READ MORE: Canada to get 249,000 doses of Pfizer vaccine in December, Trudeau says

READ MORE: ‘Route out’ of pandemic: 90-year-old woman receives UK’s 1st COVID-19 vaccine dose


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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