Officials have said they expect doses of the Moderna vaccine to arrive in Canada within 48 hours of approval. The government has inked a deal to get 168,000 doses of the vaccine by the end of December.
“Now that Health Canada has approved the Moderna vaccine, we have the green light to start rolling it out across the country … the first doses of our 40 million dose order from Moderna will arrive in the coming days,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
Speaking at a media conference Wednesday, Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical advisor with the regulatory branch of Health Canada, said the authorization is a “critical step” in ensuring a COVID-19 vaccine is available to all Canadians.
“Health Canada authorized the vaccine after an independent and thorough scientific review for safety, efficacy and quality. After accessing all the data we concluded there was strong evidence that showed the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks,” she said.
A second wave of the novel coronavirus is sweeping Canada and medical officials in some parts of the country say the health care system is under dangerous strain. Canada has recorded a total of 14,425 deaths and 521,509 cases.
The news of Moderna’s approval comes after the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine were administered to Canadians last week.
Moderna said its vaccine is nearly 94.1 per cent effective in protecting people from the coronavirus, and requires two doses, 28 days apart.
“Although the immunity builds over a period of time, and there are measurements of immunity before that second dose… in the case of Moderna, they are quite high they are at a level of about 80 per cent,” Sharma said. “But really the question is how long that immunity lasts… so we would recommend that a second dose is given.”
She added that the second dose has “variability” to when you can give the second dose.
Health Canada said the vaccine does not have any safety concerns but said not to get the shot if you are allergic to the active substance or any of the other ingredients in the vaccine. The agency also warned against getting the shot if you have symptoms of COVID-19.
The agency said side effects are “mild” and include tiredness, headache, muscle aches, chills, fever, nausea and swelling or redness at the injection site.
Anyone who is pregnant, planning to get pregnant, breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed can still get the shot but needs to consult with their doctor first.
The vaccine is not yet recommended for use on children as tests on adolescents only began in December and tests on children younger than 12 won’t begin until next year.
Health Canada said if you have previously had COVID-19 you can still get vaccinated.
Canada’s doses of the Moderna vaccine are being made in Europe.
Unlike Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which has strict cold-chain requirements, Moderna’s shot can survive in regular freezers, meaning it’s prioritized for delivery to the territories, remote Indigenous communities and long-term care sites.
The Health Canada statement called Wednesday’s decision a “critical step” to getting vaccines to all parts of the country.
“The different storage and handling requirements of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine mean that it can be distributed to isolated and remote communities, including the territories,” the statement said.
Canada signed a deal in September for 20 million doses to be delivered at the beginning of 2021, with the option of increasing the supply to 56 million doses.
Health Canada is still reviewing two more vaccines, with AstraZeneca’s potentially needing more study before the regulator is ready to make a decision and the Johnson & Johnson review still in the very early stages.
Health Canada approved the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech Dec. 9, and the first doses began arriving in Canada on Dec. 13.
The United States approved the Moderna vaccine last Friday.
— With files from the Canadian Press