Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, holds a press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, to provide an update on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine rollout in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Dr. Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser at Health Canada, holds a press conference in Ottawa on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, to provide an update on the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccine rollout in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Chief medical adviser says Health Canada preparing for quick approval of boosters

There are three variants of concern now identified in Canada

Canada’s chief medical adviser says her department is constantly receiving and reviewing any data on vaccines and COVID-19 variants and will be ready to quickly authorize needed boosters when they’re available.

But Dr. Supriya Sharma said the three vaccines authorized in Canada so far offer excellent protection and, along with public health measures, can help slow the spread of the virus and potentially help stop it from mutating even further.

“We knew this was going to happen, that we would have variants,” she said, in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Coronaviruses don’t mutate as quickly as the flu, but do change as they spread among people and the more they spread, the more they change. To that end, Sharma said the slower the spread, the fewer variants we will see.

“So a virus is not going to mutate as much when it can’t replicate,” she said.

There are three variants of concern now identified in Canada, including B.1.1.7, first identified in the United Kingdom, B. 1.351, identified in South Africa, and P. 1, identified in Brazil.

Canada’s authorized vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca, all appear to have very good results against B.1.1.7, which is the most common variant so far found in Canada.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Wednesday 1,324 cases of B.1.1.7, 103 B. 1.351 and 3 of P. 1 have been identified across Canada.

In Israel, where more than half the population has received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, studies have shown significant reductions in the spread of the virus, as well as hospitalizations and deaths. The B.1.1.7 variant is dominant in Israel, making up more than 80 per cent of the cases there now.

The B. 1.351 variant is a bit more concerning for vaccines. South Africa stopped using AstraZeneca altogether after lab tests suggested it wouldn’t be very effective against mild illness for B. 1.351, which is dominant in that country.

That decision has contributed to growing concerns that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is less desirable but Sharma said the details aren’t that simple.

“Now, if you look at severe disease, or more severe cases, it actually looked like it was still quite protective,” she said.

“But in a country where that is your dominant circulating stream, and in a country where they had potentially had access to another vaccine shortly, they made the decision that maybe they weren’t going to go ahead with that,” she said.

If B. 1.351 becomes a dominant strain here, and the vaccines don’t show effectiveness against it, they’ll be pulled, she said.

”We wouldn’t leave a vaccine on the market, if we think that it wouldn’t be effective for the overall population,” she said.

All three vaccine makers have to keep updating Health Canada with any information they have about how their injections are handling new variants.

Most are also already working on boosters to address limitations their original vaccines may have.

When those boosters are ready, Health Canada won’t need very long to review them, said Sharma.

“We’re working with our international regulatory partners, to come together with aligned guidance, to provide to companies to give them some guidance on what type of evidence we would need to see for an updated vaccine,” she said.

Health Canada worked with both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency to establish similar guidelines for what companies had to do to get their COVID-19 vaccines approved the first time.

Canada’s authorizations were independent but were completed alongside the U.S. and Europe.

Any boosters would be handled in a similar way to how Health Canada manages the flu vaccine each year, which is adjusted annually to account for the changes in flu strains that are dominant.

Smaller-scale clinical trials and lab tests, that can be completed and reviewed much more quickly, are likely.

“They still need to demonstrate that the vaccine that comes out is still safe, effective and high quality,” she said.

READ MORE: Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Photo collage of loved ones lost to substance use and overdose. (Photo courtesy Moms Stop The Harm)
B.C. overdose deaths still rising 5 years after public health emergency declared

Moms Stop the Harm calls on B.C. to provide safe supply in response to deadly illicit drug use

A black bear tries to get at a bird feeder at a home near Williams Lake. (Laura Ulrich photo)
Managing bear attractants a top priority in B.C. for 2021: Conservation Officer Service

Garbage, fruit trees, bird feeders, compost and livestock are common attractants for bears

B.C. Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon. (B.C. Cattlemen’s Association photo)
COVID, BSE, water access and private land rights: B.C. Cattlemen’s general manager weighs in

Kevin Boon said positive aspect of pandemic is more people interested in where their food comes from

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

Demonstrators at the legislature on April 14 called on the province to decriminalize drug possession and provide widespread access to regulated safe supply across B.C. (Jake Romphf/News Staff)
Rally calls for decriminalization, safe supply on 5th anniversary of overdose emergency declaration

From 2016 to the end of February, 7,072 British Columbians died due to overdose

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including, YVR and land crossings should ‘not be left behind’

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

Most Read