The advice came with a notable caveat. Barring any pre-determined health risks, the committee recommended the shot, manufactured by Janssen, to those under the directed age group, “if the individual does not wish to wait for an mRNA vaccine and if the benefits outweigh the risk for the individual.”
“Depending on how vaccines are being rolled out, some people will need to wait for a for an mRNA vaccine,” Dr. Shelley Deeks, vice-chair of NACI, told reporters on Monday.
“What we’re saying — and what we’ve been saying all along — is that mRNA vaccines are the preferred vaccines.”
The J&J vaccine is a one-dose viral vector shot that can be stored and transported at normal refrigerated temperatures in clinical trials.
It, along with the AstraZeneca vaccine, use viral vector technology that manipulates a common virus to ensure it can’t replicate and make someone sick. It then attaches the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
Health Canada has authorized the shot for adults at least 18 years old. While the NACI releases recommendations, it is ultimately up to provinces and territories to determine how they will administer the COVID-19 vaccines.
According to NACI, the vaccine has demonstrated an efficacy of 67 per cent against COVID-19 after two weeks of receiving the shot, and preliminary evidence suggests the vaccine offers protection against the B.126.96.36.199 variant of concern first identified in South Africa and the P.2 variant of interest first identified in Brazil.
NACI was quick to emphasize that an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine, such as Pfizer-BioNtech’s or Moderna’s, is preferred for people who are pregnant, but did not rule out the J&J shot, citing recently published data confirming the safety of mRNA vaccines during pregnancy and concerns that the vaccine could be linked to blood clots.
No J&J doses have been injected in Canada thus far, but the U.S. has documented 17 cases of blood-clots out of eight million doses given.
When asked by one reporter whether Canadians should feel they were “duped” into getting the AstraZeneca vaccine instead of an mRNA shot, Deeks said “all COVID vaccines are safe and effective.”
She said that anyone worried about an adverse side effect after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine should “be vigilant” for symptoms such as severe headaches, and seek care immediately if one should arise.
But “after that point in time — after about three or four weeks — there is absolutely nothing to worry about.”
The news comes days after Health Canada announced it was postponing the country’s first shipment of J&J vaccines due to quality control issues.
Health Canada said Friday it would hold back the first batch of 300,000 J&J vaccines after learning that a part of the vaccine was made in the same Baltimore plant where around 15 million doses meant for the U.S. market were spoiled.
Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said it was unclear when exactly those J&J doses would be delivered. However, “if there is not a problem,” he said “they can obviously release the vaccine to be distributed as soon as possible.
J&J has agreed to supply Canada with up to 38 million vaccines, which experts say will be crucial in curbing the spread of the virus amid a devastating third wave of the pandemic.
Canada is ramping up its vaccination efforts. In the coming weeks, deliveries of than two million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine are expected in Canada each week as the pharmaceutical giant begins shipping doses from the U.S.
Moderna is slated to deliver its next shipment of more than 1 million doses next week.
By June 30, officials have said Canada can expect to see country around 36.5 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines.
To date, more than 13.9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered across Canada, while the federal government’s most recent data says 14,779,842 doses have been distributed throughout the country.
NACI messaging ‘very frustrating,’ doctor says
Hassan Masri, an ICU physician and associate professor of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan, said he is “extremely disappointed” by the messaging from NACI today, which suggested people who can, should wait to get an mRNA vaccine.
“The reality is what they’re recommending and the numbers on the ground don’t match,” he said.
Masri said it’s “very frustrating to hear that recommendation.”
“The recommendation, it should be, and has always been by physicians on the ground, (is) to take the first vaccine available to you, as soon as possible,” he said.
The messaging today could create “unnecessary hesitancy,” and create a “two class system,” Masri said.
“Naturally, everyone and all of us, we would like to get the best,” he continued. “And now we’re creating this illusion that there’s actually the best and the second best, and naturally people who are not entrenched in data and science and medicine are going to aim to take the best.”
Masri said, though, that this is an “illusion.”
“There is no best and second best,” he said. “(The vaccines) are all good, they’re all great and they’re all saving lives.”
In a statement issued Monday, the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) said it was “disappointed” in the messaging from NACI, saying it is “causing additional confusion for many Canadians.”
CPhA said the benefits of getting a COVID-19 vaccine “far outweigh the potential risks, which continue to be very low,” and urged all Canadians to be vaccinated “as soon as they are eligible.”
— With files from Global News’ Hannah Jackson, Global News’ David Akin and the Canadian Press