Health Canada Approves First COVID-19 Vaccine from Pfizer

About 249,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine are expected to arrive by the end of the year

Following the news of the United Kingdom approving its first COVID-19 vaccine, the Federal Government of Canada has given the green light to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine is based on groundbreaking messenger RNA technology, or mRNA, which essentially directs cells in the body to make proteins to prevent or fight disease.

The announcement will be a key step towards launching one of the biggest vaccination programs in Canadian history.

On Wednesday morning, Health Canada announced the approval for the vaccine after scientists have finished an extensive two-month review of Pfizer’s clinical trial data.

In a report authorizing the use of the COVID-19 vaccine, Health Canada said the data have provided favourable supporting information regarding the efficacy and safety of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine.

“The efficacy of the vaccine was established to be approximately 95 percent. The vaccine was well tolerated by participants and has no important safety concerns. The benefit-to-risk assessment for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is considered favourable” read the report.

Cole Pinnow, the president of Pfizer Canada, said Health Canada’s approval means the country can start to return to a sense of “normalcy,” with millions of Canadians set to be vaccinated over the coming months.

“This is historic. We couldn’t be more proud that Pfizer and BioNTech were able to bring to Canada the first COVID-19 vaccine. We think this represents a monumental change in the way that we are fighting the pandemic, and hopefully represents the first big step towards normalcy,” Pinnow said in an interview with CBC Radio’s The Current.

Canada is set to be the third country in the world to authorize the vaccine after the United Kingdom and Bahrain. The U.S Food and Drug Administration has said it will come to a decision tomorrow regarding whether the vaccine is safe for use in the United States.

Earlier in the week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that 249,000 doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine will be arriving in Canada by the end of the year to start the mass vaccination campaign which is expected to take many months to complete.

The first doses will arrive in the coming weeks as some provinces, notably Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec continue to grapple with a sharp increase in new COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The vaccines will be distributed to jurisdictions on a per-capita basis, meaning each province will receive vaccine doses in numbers proportionate to its share of the population. The vaccine will not be sent to the territories for the time being as they cannot safely store the Pfizer product.

The national advisory committee on immunization (NACI) said last week the limited initial quantity of doses should be reserved for people who are most at risk of contracting the virus and developing severe symptoms — elderly residents of long-term care and assisted living facilities, retirement homes and chronic care hospitals, and the staff who care for them.

After long-term care home residents and staff are immunized, NACI said the next priority group should be all Canadians over the age of 80.

It will then be up to provincial leaders to decide who gets shots when, but Prime Minister Trudeau said the premiers are in agreement that the NACI guidelines should be followed and the most vulnerable should be first in line.

Prime Minister Trudeau will be meeting with the premiers virtually on Thursday with vaccine distribution, health care funding, and improving long-term care facilities on the agenda.

Health Canada is currently reviewing other promising vaccines from companies like Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson’s pharmaceutical division, Janssen.

In total, Canada has ordered roughly 418 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from seven different companies — an insurance policy against the possibility that some of the vaccines in development prove to be ineffective.

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