Health Canada approves two AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines

TORONTO — Health Canada has approved the the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and a related shot by the Serum Institute of India for use in this country with the first doses expected to arrive soon.

Canada joins more than a dozen other countries that have given the green light to ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, the shot from AstraZeneca and Oxford University, which was among the first buzzed-about vaccine candidates in 2020.

A version of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the Indian pharmaceutical company Serum Institute of India and sponsored by Verity Pharmaceuticals Inc. in Canada has also been approved for use and is considered a separate vaccine by Health Canada.

AstraZeneca has promised 20 million doses to Canada, with the federal government saying it’s been in talks with AstraZeneca about locking in shipments as soon as the regulatory green light was given.

As well, up to 500,000 doses could be sent to Canada by the end of March as part of the global vaccine-sharing program known as COVAX.

The inoculants, which are the third and fourth approved COVID-19 vaccines in Canada, is considered to be relatively cheap and easy-to-store, a factor that sets it apart from the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines already in circulation. AstraZeneca has reached agreements with international health bodies and governments to price each dose at about US$2.50. Doses of the AstraZeneca shot can be stored at temperatures between 2 C to 8 C, while the other two require ultra-cold freezers.

But the AstraZeneca vaccine has already faced efficacy concerns as variants of the novel coronavirus pop up around the world. In South Africa, officials suspended plans to use the shot on health-care workers after a clinical trial indicated it is less effective against the B.1.351 variant predominant in that country. In France, the vaccine is only being administered to people under the age of 65, as officials cited a lack of data about its efficacy for older people.

While federal health regulators received the application for authorization from Verity and Serum Institute on Jan. 23, they have been reviewing the AstraZeneca vaccine for nearly five months in collaboration with the European Medicines Agency. In early February, health officials said they were going back and forth with AstraZeneca about what information the vaccine label will include and cited ongoing trials in the U.S. as one of the reasons the review process for the jab had been “complicated.”


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