Mar. 1, 2021 -- Health Canada, the country’s health regulatory agency, approved the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for all adults ages 18 and older on Friday.
Two versions were authorized — one manufactured by AstraZeneca and developed by the University of Oxford, and the Serum Institute of India’s version of the vaccine. Canada has previously authorized the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“This is very encouraging news. It means more people vaccinated, and sooner,” Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, said during a news conference.
Canada will receive 6.5 million COVID-19 vaccines before the end of March, the AP reported, including 500,000 AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute. The country has ordered 22 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in total, which will arrive between April and September.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine clinical trials showed 62% efficacy, according to Health Canada, which appears to offer less protection than the other COVID-19 vaccines. However, public health officials have said any vaccine with 50% efficacy or higher could help bring an end to the pandemic, according to The Associated Press.
“This is another option, and it’s a good option,” Supriya Sharma, MD, the chief medical adviser for Health Canada, said during Friday’s news conference.
Public health officials raised concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine after an early study showed that it might not prevent mild and moderate disease caused by the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, the AP reported. South Africa scaled back a planned rollout of the vaccine and opted to use the unlicensed Johnson & Johnson vaccine for healthcare workers.
The World Health Organization and more than 50 countries have authorized the two-dose AstraZeneca vaccine, which is cheaper to manufacture and easier to store at typical refrigerated temperatures. The vaccine makes up the bulk of the stockpile for COVAX, the global COVID-19 vaccine distribution initiative.
The U.S. hasn’t yet authorized the AstraZeneca vaccine. Some countries — such as France and Germany — have authorized it only for people under 65. Health Canada said the vaccine would work in older adults based on a pooled analysis from four ongoing clinical studies, as well as data from countries where the vaccine has been approved.
“We’re starting to get real-world evidence,” Sharma said. “There is evidence that in older age groups, it would be effective.”