Health Canada has been reviewing AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s vaccine since it was submitted for approval on Oct. 1 as more and more data has arrived from the manufacturer.
The agency said it is in the midst of reviewing final data, but suggested it could be greenlit sooner than later.
“The Department is currently completing its review of the submitted data and expects to make a decision on the authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming days,” Health Canada said in a statement on Jan. 29.
“While the Department collaborates with other regulators, it remains committed to conducting an independent and thorough scientific review of all COVID-19 vaccines.”
Health Canada has been working closely with international regulators on approvals of different vaccines.
The agency said it has been reviewing AstraZeneca’s in collaboration with the European Medicines Agency, which on Friday recommended approving the vaccine for people over the age of 18. The decision still requires final approval from the European Commission, a process that occurred swiftly with other vaccines.
Should Canada decide to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, it would set in motion the agreement Canada signed with the company for up to 20 million vaccine doses. Those doses are slated to be delivered in 2021, according to that agreement.
However, a vaccine supply table recently provided by the federal government shows that Canada is not expecting to receive any AstraZeneca vaccines — or any other under-review vaccine — until at least the second quarter of this year.
Health Canada has already authorized two vaccines for use in Canada. The first, manufactured by Pfizer-BioNTech, was approved on Dec. 9. Just weeks later, on Dec. 23, Moderna’s vaccine was also approved.
The news of more vaccines nearing authorization — or nearing completion of clinical trials — comes in contrast with setbacks to deliveries of already approved shots.
Canada’s expected supplies of both Pfizer and Moderna have been cut back in recent weeks.
The delivery news has somewhat overshadowed the positive vaccine development with Johnson & Johnson (Janssen), which reported its vaccine is good at preventing people from being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19. Its overall effectiveness — 66 per cent in global trials — pales somewhat to Pfizer and Moderna’s, but experts say it’s still an important tool.
Like AstraZeneca’s shot, Johnson & Johnson’s is less logistically difficult.
“We’re in a very challenging period,” Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
“We want to have more vaccines, but we don’t have them right now. So how we best use these other vaccines, should they become available, is really important, but it’s quite a complex picture.”
She described the effort as the “most complex vaccine program we’ll ever implement in Canada.”
“There are other features about these vaccines. Janssen is a one-dose. AstraZeneca is a two, but can be stored and both are logistically much easier to handle than the mRNA vaccines. These are some of the characteristics and criteria that will be reviewed on how we best use the supplies we may get of new vaccines.”
The potential approval of AstraZeneca comes amid a bitter dispute between the drugmaker and the EU after the company said it would significantly reduce initial deliveries from 80 million doses to 31 million doses.
Amid fears doses from AstraZeneca could be diverted to other countries, EU officials are mulling measures that could be used to block vaccine shipments to non-EU countries, like Canada.
Canada receives the bulk of its vaccines from factories in Europe.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spoke this week with the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who told him that any measures taken by Europe will not affect the deliveries of the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
–With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Rachel Gilmore