Canadian public health officials say they are confident regulators are on track to approve the Johnson & Johnson one-shot coronavirus vaccine within a matter of days.
Dr. Marc Berthiaume, director of the bureau of medical science at Health Canada, said during a press conference on Thursday that he expects there will be good news on the approval of that vaccine shortly.
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine should be available in the next few days,” he said, referring to the vaccine approval — officials said the specifics of any possible deliveries are still being worked out.
“So we should have good news on that in the next few days.”
Earlier in the week, Health Canada’s chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma had said the review of the vaccine candidate was “progressing very well.”
Sharma said the regulator had been waiting on “a last piece” of manufacturing data from Johnson & Johnson as part of that application review, and received that on Saturday.
In light of that, she had said a final decision was expected soon.
READ MORE: Canada received ‘last piece’ of manufacturing data for Johnson & Johnson vaccine: Sharma
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine differs from the others approved so far in that it delivers a high level of protection from developing COVID-19 symptoms with a single dose rather than two.
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Clinical trial data suggests the vaccine has an overall efficacy rate of 66 per cent.
But that rate rises to 88 per cent when it comes to how well the vaccine prevents severe illness and hospitalization because of COVID-19, which is a key metric.
In other words — similar to with the AstraZeneca vaccine, someone who gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine could still develop mild symptoms of COVID-19, but they are significantly less likely than an unvaccinated person to develop the kind of severe symptoms requiring hospitalization.
Canada has a contract in place for 38 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with 10 million of those expected to be delivered by September, though specific timelines are not yet clear.
Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer, said officials are having conversations about whether the approvals could lead to the national vaccination timeline moving more quickly.
“Yes, certainly we’ve had very good active discussions,” he said when asked whether approval of AstraZeneca and potentially Johnson & Johnson too could see Canadians vaccinated before September.
“If you look at it, the timelines could shift and we would be able to cover a vast majority of the Canadian population in an advanced timeline, or moving it up by several weeks,” he said.
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Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is leading the logistics of the vaccine rollout, said while the timeline could shift, the target they are working towards right now remains September.
“You could anticipate that we could meet that target effectively sooner, but right now we’re planning for September,” he said.
Njoo also emphasized that people can still infect others even if they have the vaccine themselves, so Canadians must continue with the public health measures that have been put in place.
“All of us must continue to do our part,” he said, urging people who get their vaccine to keep wearing masks, washing their hands often, and physically distancing from others.
“Even after you receive the vaccine, you can still spread the virus to others.”