It looks like Canadians won’t need an annual jab to keep up protections from the coronavirus, Health Canada says, but it’s still possible that booster shots will be required every couple of years to keep our bodies in full fighting form.
Studies are currently underway to determine how frequently, if at all, these repeat injections will need to take place.
“We’ve got very, very stable viruses like the measles virus that doesn’t change very often at all. [Then] we have viruses like the influenza virus that we know changes very frequently and you have to get vaccines every year,” explained Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical advisor with the regulatory branch of Health Canada, at a Wednesday press conference.
“This group of viruses is somewhere in between. So at this point in time, I think we’re still looking for evidence.”
She said that the early evidence seems to indicate that COVID-19 isn’t as good at mutating itself as influenza – which means it’s extremely unlikely we’d need an annual jab. However, so far, it doesn’t seem to be as stable as the measles virus. That means booster shots might be needed – but, Sharma warned, it’s “a bit early to tell.”
If researchers do find a booster shot is needed, they’d also have to determine how often they’re required – whether it’s every two years, three years, or beyond.
“This is all the types of information that we’re going to be continuing to collect, working internationally to collect that information and monitoring not only the virus, but obviously these vaccines and how we move forward,” Sharma said.
Her comments come on the heels of the news that Canada has approved a second coronavirus vaccine for use in our country, with doses expected to roll out in the coming days. This vaccine, from Moderna, is about 94 per cent effective and doesn’t have the ultra-cold storage requirements as the Pfizer vaccine, making its rollout process easier.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said doses of the Moderna vaccine will begin to arrive within 48 hours of this approval – and Canada inked a deal that should see up to 168,000 Moderna vaccine doses arriving before the end of the month.
Trudeau also announced in his Wednesday press conference that Canada will be getting an additional quarter of a million doses of the Pfizer vaccine next month, bringing the total to 750,000 Pfizer vaccine doses for January.
While Canada has signed purchase agreements with multiple vaccine manufacturers, the agreements with Moderna and Pfizer alone should see 60 million doses arrive in Canada by September.
That’s enough to vaccinate 30 million Canadians, just eight million shy of the entire population.
Meanwhile, in addition to questions about the long-term effectiveness of vaccines, there have also been concerns about whether the jabs will continue to be effective against the already-emerging mutations of the vaccine – some of which have prompted Canada to implement a temporary ban on flights from the U.K., where the new faster-spreading virus variant is circulating.
The WHO confirmed on Monday that the mutation is unlikely to impact the effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines, and variants cropping up don’t necessarily mean the virus is getting more dangerous.
“Often, if you’re changing one thing, you’re losing another,” Dr. Zain Chagla said of virus variants in an interview Monday with Global News.
“And so a virus that could be a bit more reticent to deal with the vaccine, may lose the ability to replicate as well or transmit as well. So, again, these things all have biologic costs…every genetic change is a balance between (the virus) becoming more fit and what it has to give up to become more fit in that sense.”
This means that even if the virus changes, the vaccine should remain effective. Sharma added that changes to approved vaccines would require new information to be submitted to Health Canada for study – though the extent of the new information required depends on the significance of the change.
“It depends on how significant that change is. If it’s not a completely new vaccine, then they can actually submit data. And there’s an…abbreviated sort of process,” she said.
“If there is a significant change to the vaccine, they would have to come back and submit that data to Health Canada. We would review that and then make any changes. If it is a brand new vaccine, completely different, they would have to come in with a full new package of data.”
Meanwhile, as scientists strive to answer the questions about the long-term effectiveness of vaccines against variants of the virus and begin the process of vaccine rollout, Canadians already have some tools at their disposal that can help to control the spread of COVID-19.
Speaking on Wednesday, Trudeau reminded Canadians of these tools.
“This is the time to continue wearing a mask, to keep your distance, to avoid gatherings, and to download and use the COVID Alert app,” he said.
“In other words, please continue to protect those around you.”
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.