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Canada approves Johnson & Johnson’s 1-shot COVID-19 vaccine

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Health Canada has approved Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, officials announced Friday.

The vaccine adds to Canada’s growing arsenal, becoming the fourth official shot to get Health Canada’s seal of approval, potentially enabling more Canadians to be vaccinated in the coming months.

Read more: Johnson & Johnson vaccine approved in Canada. How does it compare to the others?

“Canada is the first major regulator to approve four vaccines,” said Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical advisor.

It will become the only one-dose COVID-19 vaccine available in Canada, which experts say will help accelerate immunity among the population and require fewer appointments and medical staff. It is approved in Canada for use in individuals aged 18 and older and is effective in older adults, Sharma said.

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“For the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a large study of over 40,000 people — which included 20 per cent of 65 and over — showed efficacy was very similar in the younger and older group,” said Sharma.

Read more: A look at what Canada can learn from America’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan

The single-dose requirement will reduce pressure on vaccination clinics, said Health Canada’s Dr. Marc Berthiaume.

“Protection lasts for several months,” he said.

The shot is also significantly easier to ship and store, as it can be kept in a refrigerator (between 2C and 8C) for at least three months — much longer than the Moderna vaccine — rather than a freezer.

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Canada has pre-ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, with options to order up to 28 million more. The initial 10 million doses are expected by September.

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The first shipments should arrive sometime in Q2 (between April and June) Procurement Minister Anita Anand said at another press conference Friday.

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The shot is also referred to as the Janssen vaccine — the Janssen Pharmaceutical Company is owned by Johnson & Johnson.

Global trials found the shot to be 66 per cent effective at mitigating moderate to severe illness and 85 per cent effective at preventing the most serious outcomes. Notably, there were no deaths among participants who had received the J&J vaccine and no hospital admissions after 28 days post-vaccine.

“All vaccines will help Canadians fight the pandemic. These are very good vaccine choices,” said Berthiaume.

Dr. Amira Roess, a professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at George Mason University, told Global News previously about how the shot will uniquely benefit Canada’s vaccination efforts.

“It’ll be easier to administer in community clinics and in more rural areas,” said Roess. “It’ll be really key to reaching populations that are traditionally harder to reach.”

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The shot also appears to do well against the highly contagious B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa. The country began administering the unapproved vaccine to healthcare workers in February as part of a study, after early data suggested the AstraZeneca vaccine offered “minimal protection” against the now-dominant variant.

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“It’s just as effective as Moderna and Pfizer at preventing more serious cases,” Roess said. “It’s a really good reason to go and get whatever vaccine you have access to.”

A new trial is also underway to discover if two doses of the vaccine are better than one.

Canada’s approval of the vaccine closely follows that of the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel voted unanimously on Feb. 28 to recommend the shot for widespread use on Americans 18 and older.

Read more: Experts caution against ‘pick-and-choose’ attitude about vaccine options

Roess said the J&J vaccine opens the door to at-home vaccinations. Because of its flexible storage requirements and simpler regimen, vaccinators could technically “go out and reach people, instead of requiring them to come to where the vaccine is behind held.”

“Elderly people who can’t leave their home — they’re really going to benefit,” she added.

The shot is still pending review in the U.K. and European Union.

Also on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the accelerated delivery of millions more doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. An additional 1.5 million doses are set to arrive in Canada in March, followed by a million more in both April and May than previously expected.

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Canada will likely need to wait a while longer for any further vaccine approvals as additional information is needed to move forward on a decision on the Novavax vaccine, with additional trial results expected in April, Sharma said.

“We are still a few weeks, if not months away from a decision on Novavax,” Sharma said.

The federal government has signed a deal with Novavax to produce millions of its vaccine doses in Canada, however, the facilities required to do so will not be ready until the end of 2021.

— with files from Reuters and Global News’ Jackson Proskow, Saba Aziz and Tania Kohut

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