Vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford have now been approved in Canada. While Canadians may not get a choice about which COVID-19 vaccine to take, all three offer protection against severe illness, according to experts.
“All of these vaccines are good,” Dr. Bradly Wouters, executive vice-president of science and research at the University Health Network told Global News Friday.
Available data shows all these three vaccines have the “ability to impact hospitalization” and offer “protection against severe illness,” he said.
Which vaccine is the best?
There’s no “best vaccine” option.
Whichever vaccine is available first, “it’s going to protect you,” Wouters said.
Parts of the world are already facing which-is-best challenges. Astrazeneca’s vaccine for instance, was cleared for use in Britain and Europe after data suggested that it was about 70 per cent effective.
Italy’s government recently decided to reserve Pfizer and Moderna shots for the elderly and designate the Astrazeneca vaccine for younger, at-risk workers, sparking protests.
“Right now, it’s not vaccine against vaccine, it’s vaccine against virus,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, recently told The Associated Press.
Wouters reiterated a similar notion.
“In a pandemic, you need fast results,” he noted and the “priority is to ensure everyone gets vaccinated” and not “debate over which vaccine is better.”
“Each trial involves different people in different places,” he said, and while many may be making comparisons between vaccines from the results of different Phase 3 trials, “such comparisons are misleading,” he said.
After Pfizer and Moderna, AstraZeneca is the third shot officially authorized in the country.
The two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna shots were found to be about 95 per cent effective against the virus as compared to the AstraZeneca shots that stand at 62 per cent in preventing symptomatic cases.
However, Wouters said they will all work “as effectively as possible as long as combined with mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing.”
“We must continue to follow public health guidelines, being cautious until positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths are significantly reduced nationwide,” he said.
Following Canada’s approval of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday, Procurement Minister Anita Anand cautioned against deliberation over “the sort of good or bad” vaccines.
“If there is a vaccine and it’s been authorized by Health Canada, it means that it’s met standards,” Anand said during a press conference Friday.
AstraZeneca shots may not seem equal to its opponents at first glance but “these vaccines do have a use,” she said.
“We have real-world evidence from Scotland and the U.K. for people that have been dosed that have been over 80, and that has shown a significant drop in hospitalizations, to the tune of 84 per cent,” she said.
“The idea is to have a suite of vaccines that are available. I think Canada is hungry for vaccines, we’re putting more on the buffet table to be used.”
Standards of efficacy
Speaking of the “standards of effectiveness,” Anand said vaccines “should meet at least 50 per cent.”
“If we compare that to the influenza viruses that we authorize every year, if you look back, for example, just to last year, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine against the most common strain was about 64 per cent, across to the next common strain was about 54 per cent,” she said.
As more information becomes available from real-world use, “the efficacy” of the AstraZeneca vaccine might prove to “be much higher,” Anand added.
Considering all the five vaccines that are currently under review, including the Novavax and Johnson & Johnson shots, Anand emphasized that nobody has died so far from “adverse effects” of these vaccines.
“If you look across all the clinical trials of the tens of thousands of people that were involved, the number of cases of people that died from COVID-19 that got vaccine was zero. The number of people that were hospitalized because their COVID-19 disease was so severe was zero. The number of people that died because of an adverse event or an effect of the vaccine was zero,” she said.
The idea is “to prevent” serious illness, hospitalizations and “of course prevent death,” Anand said.
Storage and distribution
Compared to the other vaccines, the AstraZeneca shot is also easier to administer.
The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (2 to 8 C/36 to 46 F) for at least six months and administered within existing health-care settings.
The Moderna and Pfizer options, meanwhile, must be stored at subzero temperatures until they’re ready to be used, at -4 F and -94 F, respectively.
This is “something we need to take into account,” Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said during a press conference Friday.
He said the onboarding of the AstraZeneca vaccine is “another tool in our toolbox.”
“Following the approval of Health Canada, the efficacy stands at 62 per cent, but we have to look at the entire profile of each vaccine because this vaccine is easier to administer than Pfizer and Moderna, so this is something we need to take into account,” he said.
— With files from The Associated Press