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Health officials hope Canada will approve Moderna coronavirus vaccine by year’s end

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Hillier expects Moderna vaccine to be approved by end of December for use in long-term care homes' Coronavirus: Hillier expects Moderna vaccine to be approved by end of December for use in long-term care homes
WATCH: Hillier expects Moderna vaccine to be approved by end of December for use in long-term care homes – Dec 10, 2020

Canadian health officials are suggesting Health Canada could approve the Moderna coronavirus vaccine before the end of the year.

The expected timeline would come hot on the heels of Wednesday’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the first shot to be given the green light for mass inoculations in Canada. The Moderna shot would also fill coverage gaps created by the strict conditions needed for the Pfizer vaccine — particularly in the country’s north and in long-term care homes.

Read more: Coronavirus vaccine will arrive in Canada on Monday, government says

Retired general Rick Hillier, who is overseeing Ontario’s vaccine rollout, said Thursday that he expects the province will be able to set up special vaccination sites inside seniors’ homes once approval comes from Ottawa, in order to give the Moderna shots directly to residents and staff.

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“We believe that the Moderna vaccine is not going to be far behind the Pfizer approvals, and we have been led to believe that we should see Moderna vaccines available to us in Ontario by the end of December,” he said.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, similarly told CBC Wednesday that out of the three vaccine candidates still being reviewed — Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson — the Moderna shot is “furthest advanced” and said she was hopeful it will be approved before the end of the year.

“We’re still waiting for some additional information to come in, especially around the manufacturing,” she said.

“(Before the end of the year) may be within the realm of possibility, but it really hinges on that information that we’re expecting in the next couple of weeks.”

Click to play video 'First Ministers meeting focuses on health care funding, vaccine rollout' First Ministers meeting focuses on health care funding, vaccine rollout
First Ministers meeting focuses on health care funding, vaccine rollout – Dec 10, 2020

Global News has reached out to both Moderna and Health Canada for further information on the approval process and a potential timeline.

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At a news conference Friday, Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, said she expects Health Canada to have the analysis of Moderna’s data “soon” and that regulators are “working day and night, 24/7” to come to a conclusion.

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Moderna has said it will be able to deliver initial shipments of its vaccine to Canada in December if it gets Health Canada’s approval the same month.

The federal government last week increased its confirmed order of Moderna’s vaccine to 40 million doses, doubling its initial order. Two million of those doses are anticipated to arrive through the first quarter of 2021.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that the federal government will be covering the costs of all vaccine doses shipped to Canada.

Just like Pfizer, pre-planning for the delivery and distribution of Moderna’s vaccine is already underway in anticipation of a possible approval, Tam said Friday.

“Discussions with Moderna are sort of daily, to touch base,” she said. “So we know how to plan, just as we did with the Pfizer vaccine.”

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Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been proven to be around 95 per cent effective against COVID-19 in large-scale clinical trials. Like Pfizer’s, the Moderna vaccine requires two doses spaced roughly a month apart.

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But Pfizer’s shot has to kept frozen below -70 C until just before it is diluted to be injected into a patient, requiring special freezer units that are being installed in select locations like hospitals. Initial recipients of the shot will have to travel to those locations to be inoculated starting Monday.

Moderna’s vaccine, meanwhile, only needs to be kept at -20 C and can stay inside regular refrigerator systems. That flexibility has made the shot ideal for long-term care homes, where staff could inoculate residents without requiring them to leave their facilities.

Click to play video 'Canada acquires additional doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine' Canada acquires additional doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine
Canada acquires additional doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine – Dec 4, 2020

Canada’s northern territories have also said they will wait for deliveries of the Moderna vaccine, as the Pfizer one is not practical for distribution because of its cold storage requirements.

Yukon’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brendan Hanley, also said Thursday he expects Moderna to be the next vaccine to get the green light.

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Health minister Pauline Frost said about 50,000 doses are due to arrive by the end of March, with the first deliveries expected in January. That would be enough for about 75 per cent of the territory’s population, she said.

The Northwest Territories is planning to detail its vaccine plans on Friday, but said in a media advisory that it also expects to receive enough doses of the Moderna vaccine for three-quarters of the population.

Read more: Moderna says its coronavirus vaccine provides immunity after 3 months

The number of doses anticipated for Nunavut is still unknown, but officials have said they are planning to have its first sites ready to receive vaccines by Dec. 14.

The Moderna vaccine is also seen as the ideal shot for remote Indigenous communities. Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said this week that the province will receive 15 per cent more doses than it was originally scheduled to get under the federal vaccine distribution plan, due to Manitoba’s high Indigenous population.

Pallister said he did not get proper clarity on that plan during a first ministers’ meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Thursday.

— With files from the Canadian Press