Pfizer or Moderna? ‘There’s no better or worse,’ Ontario’s COVID-19 science chief says

Pfizer or Moderna?

It’s the COVID-19 vaccine question more and more Canadians are asking themselves as the country adapts to being in the privileged position of having millions of doses of both flowing, compared to the vaccine scarcity of earlier months of the year.

But anyone concerned that they should be weighing the two mRNA vaccines can rest assured — there’s no wrong answer, and no benefit to shopping around for one versus the other.

“These are interchangeable,” said Dr. Peter Jüni, director of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.

“This is like a brand of gasoline. Basically, these two really are so close the way they are produced, the concepts, etc. We know it also when we look at the antibody responses.

“That’s important to keep in mind. There’s no better or worse between these two.”

Read more: Canada to get 68M COVID-19 vaccine doses in July thanks to Moderna supply surge

Jüni’s comments come as the country is in the midst of a massive influx of vaccines.

Sixty-eight million COVID-19 vaccine doses are set to arrive next month, while June has seen a huge surge in deliveries. The proportion of eligible Canadians with at least one vaccine has soared to 70 per cent, though that represents just over 60 per cent of total Canadians with at least one shot.

Even so, Canada lags in administering second doses. Roughly nine per cent of Canadians have a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and changing advice around which to get as a second dose has fuelled frustration among some who got AstraZeneca.

Read more: AstraZeneca vaccine recipients frustrated by ‘mixed messages’ from Canadian authorities

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) shifted its guidance last week for AstraZeneca recipients, advising people who got that vaccine as a first dose to get an mRNA as a “preferred” option for a second dose if possible.

That comes as cases of the Delta variant surge and it stands poised to become the main strain of the virus circulating in Ontario.

“They absolutely did the right thing,” Jüni said of anyone who got AstraZeneca, either as a first or second dose, and stressed the vaccine remains excellent at preventing severe outcomes and death.

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He said what’s happening now as the Delta variant spreads is “evolution in real time,” and that poses new concerns that were not as clear when less infectious and less severe strains were more common.

“We now have the situation where the Delta variant is about to take over Ontario, for example, and we just need to react to it,” he said, pointing to new evidence out of the U.K.

“This evidence just clearly indicates, yes: two shots of Pfizer or then also one shot of AstraZeneca followed by one shot of Pfizer or Moderna are just the better choice to get this pandemic under control and keep it under control.”

Read more: mRNA COVID-19 vaccines should be 2nd dose after AstraZeneca shot: NACI

He noted the rollout of vaccines also poses challenges for parents, who might be able to get fully vaccinated in the short-term but who worry about what to do with their children: for example, when do the unvaccinated children of fully vaccinated parents have to do a 14-day quarantine if they travel?

Jüni said he understands it’s difficult for many parents waiting for news on when a vaccine will be approved for children, but that the focus needs to be on keeping new variants out of the country.

“From my perspective, this would mean if we travel with children, the children would need to undergo the regular quarantine and would need to get tested repetitively, not just once,” he said.

“That’s just how it is right now. We don’t have vaccines that are approved for kids.”

As vaccines keep rolling out, Jüni said he hopes to keep seeing strong uptake of vaccines so that the country can get to the benchmark of roughly 85 per cent of the population fully vaccinated.

“Right now we’re really on the right track. So I hope we continue to do that. We also have an extraordinary low amount of vaccine hesitancy in this country,” he said.

“I hope this stays like that.”

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