Canada will not cancel its contract for millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine unless it is advised by Health Canada that the shot is unsafe, the federal procurement minister said Wednesday.
Asked at a House of Commons committee meeting if the contract should be cancelled due to reports of blood clots after inoculation in the United States, Anita Anand said there was no reason to do so unless the health regulator says otherwise.
“Health Canada has deemed both J&J and AstraZeneca — and Pfizer and Moderna — safe and effective, and as a result we will continue with our procurements of these vaccines,” she said.
“Until we hear otherwise from Health Canada, our procurements are all systems go.”
On Tuesday, U.S. health regulators recommended pausing the use of the vaccine after six female recipients between the ages of 18 and 48 experienced the adverse event. One woman died and a second woman has been hospitalized in critical condition.
The American experts stressed the rarity of such events — especially with more than 6.8 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine having been administered in the U.S. so far.
Later on Tuesday, J&J said in a statement that it is pausing clinical trials for the vaccine and delaying the shot’s rollout in Europe in response to the reports. It did not mention if Canada would face a similar delay.
Canada approved the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine on March 5 and has pre-ordered 10 million doses, with options to order up to 28 million more. However, deliveries to the country are not expected to begin until the end of April.
During the committee meeting, Anand said that the two-shot vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are considered “the workhorses” of Canada’s vaccine procurement and rollout.
Canada has contracts to receive up to 40 million doses from Pfizer and 44 million from Moderna, she said — enough for every willing Canadian adult to receive both necessary shots by the end of September.
Yet when asked if the government should cancel its contract with J&J if it will already be getting enough supply from Pfizer and Moderna — particularly given the U.S. blood clot reports — Anand would not directly answer.
“Advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the vaccine task force informed our procurement,” she said. “Once we received their expert and scientific advice on which vaccines were beneficial for Canada, we then executed those contracts.
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“We will continue to execute those procurements going forward given that Health Canada has deemed J&J safe and effective.”
Health Canada said Tuesday it is “following the (blood clot safety) issue closely” and working with the drugmaker, the U.S. FDA and other regulators as the data is reviewed.
“Health Canada has asked Janssen (the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson) to provide information on any cases of these rare blood clotting events,” the regulator said.
Anand said Canada exceeded its target of 6 million vaccine doses received by the end of March, ultimately receiving 9.5 million doses throughout the first quarter of 2021.
A total of 12 million doses of Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca have been received and delivered to provinces and territories to date, she said.
To date, nearly 8.9 million doses have been administered to Canadians, and more than 20 per cent of the population has received at least one shot.
Asked if her ministry is working on procuring more doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the U.S. on top of the 1.5 million already loaned to Canada, Anand said negotiations are ongoing.
“I do hope that we acquire more doses from the United States, and that is the topic of our ongoing conversations,” she said.
The minister reiterated Health Canada’s assurances that AstraZeneca’s shot is also safe, despite blood clot reports that are similar to those for the J&J vaccine.
Health Canada said Wednesday that it is sticking by its safety assessment of the shot despite new evidence suggesting a “stronger link” to blood clots.
Anand later brushed off criticism from other opposition MPs on the committee that she was “bragging” about her ministry’s vaccine procurement strategy despite concerns about the pace of the rollout.
She said Canada is expecting to have 44 million doses delivered by the end of June — enough for every Canadian to receive their first dose — and said those deliveries from vaccine manufacturers have both quickened and smoothed out.
“There have been delays of Moderna doses by a few days, but other than that, in recent months and weeks, the deliveries have been much more stable than they were at the beginning of 2021,” she said.
— With files from Global’s Rachael D’Amore