The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate could be approved in Canada next month.
Dr. Supriya Sharma said Thursday that Canada has “similar timelines” to the U.S. and Europe for approval of the vaccine being developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is meeting Dec. 10 to consider whether to give the go-ahead to Pfizer.
Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo also said Thursday that Canada is in a good position to provide coronavirus vaccine access to “every Canadian who wants one” in 2021, but many will have to wait while initial supplies roll out.
Sharma and Njoo made the statements in the first of a new round of weekly press conferences that will outline the government’s vaccination roll-out plans.
Njoo said Canada is in a strong position to distribute the first vaccines once they become available.
That initial rollout — which will likely see three million priority Canadians get their shots first — will focus on three core groups: those at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, those at high risk of transmitting it to vulnerable people and essential workers.
“Over the past several months there has been a great deal of preparation taking place behind the scenes to ensure Canada is well-positioned to obtain COVID-19 vaccines and, building on our well-established systems, provide access to every Canadian who wants one in 2021,” he said.
“As things stand now, we expect certain vaccines to become available in early 2021. However, it’s important to note that the initial supply of these vaccines will be limited … When a vaccine is ready, Canada will be ready.”
The coronavirus pandemic has ravaged the world over the last 11 months, killing 1.4 million people around the world and 11,763 in Canada alone.
More than 350,000 Canadians have also been infected, along with more than 60 million others globally.
Global scientific focus is centred on the race for a vaccine, which will be a crucial part of a multi-pronged and ongoing effort to reduce the spread of the deadly and highly contagious virus.
Countries around the world have shut down their borders to varying degrees over the past year as well as shuttering businesses, cancelling or postponing sporting events like the Olympics, and pleaded with their citizens to wear masks and stay at home in order to cut down on the spread.
The effects have been devastating: unemployment numbers have soared and decades of progress towards gender equality in the workforce have been erased as women disproportionately quit their jobs or reduce their hours in order to care for children or parents.
The Canadian government has contracts with seven of the leading vaccine candidate suppliers, with five of those vaccines now in Phase 3 clinical trials and several showing promising potential from those tests.
However, the specifics of a rollout schedule remain unclear and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau acknowledged earlier in the week that Canadians will receive the vaccine after citizens of countries like the U.S. and the U.K., where some of the leading vaccine candidates manufacture their supplies.
None of the leading vaccine candidates have manufacturing facilities in Canada, a challenge Njoo noted is difficult to fix quickly because several of them rely on new technology that hasn’t been used before in vaccine manufacturing: harnessing mRNA of the virus to teach the immune system to fight back.
Still, the government has said the anticipation is that initial supplies of vaccines could arrive between January and March 2021, and go to those at the highest risk first.
Njoo outlined several examples of those high priority groups on Thursday, noting that those at highest risk include people who are older or who have high-risk conditions that increase their odds of having a severe reaction to the virus, as well as remote Indigenous communities.
Essential workers and those at high risk of transmitting the virus to high-risk individuals will likely include individuals like long-term care home workers, healthcare workers, police, firefighters and others “essential to maintaining the pandemic response.”
The conversations on finalizing those groups remain ongoing with the provinces, he added, noting that while “we can expect some logistical challenges ahead” given the size of the country, there has been a “great deal” of work to try to ensure a smooth roll out.
He stressed many of the details regarding timelines of when specific vaccines will be delivered and how many Canadians could be vaccinated by benchmarks such as the start of the next school year are difficult to say with certainty at this point.
Officials said that right now, the contracts with vaccines suppliers have a “firm” number of 194 million combined doses set to be delivered to Canada, with options to increase that to 414 million doses.
— With files from the Canadian Press