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

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The property on which a residential school (pictured) that was torn down years ago in Lower Post is to be the location of a cultural centre. (Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre photo)
Lower Post residential school building to be demolished, replaced with cultural centre

Project to be funded by federal and provincial governments, Daylu Dena Council

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

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

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/YouTube.com screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Christy Clark, who was premier from 2011 to 2017, is the first of several present and past politicians to appear this month before the Cullen Commission, which is investigating the causes and impact of B.C.’s money-laundering problem over the past decade. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
Christy Clark says she first learned of money-laundering spike in 2015

The former B.C. premier testified Tuesday she was concerned the problem was ‘apparently at an all-time high’

Most Read