The vaccine adds to Canada’s growing arsenal, becoming the fourth official shot to get Health Canada’s seal of approval, potentially enabling more Canadians to be vaccinated in the coming months.
It will become the only one-dose COVID-19 vaccine available in Canada, which experts say will help accelerate immunity among the population and require fewer appointments and medical staff.
The shot is also significantly easier to ship and store, as it can be kept in a refrigerator for three months — much longer than the Moderna vaccine — rather than a freezer.
“It’ll be easier to administer in community clinics and in more rural areas,” Dr. Amira Roess, a professor of Global Health and Epidemiology at George Mason University, told Global News previously.
“It’ll be really key to reaching populations that are traditionally harder to reach.”
Canada has pre-ordered 10 million doses of the vaccine, with options to order up to 28 million more. It is unclear when the first doses might arrive in Canada following approval, but those initial 10 million doses are expected by September.
Global trials found the shot to be 66 per cent effective at mitigating moderate to severe illness and 85 per cent effective at preventing the most serious outcomes. Notably, there were no deaths among participants who had received the J&J vaccine and no hospital admissions after 28 days post-vaccine.
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“It’s just as effective as Moderna and Pfizer at preventing more serious cases,” Roess said.
“It’s a really good reason to go and get whatever vaccine you have access to it.”
The shot also appears to do well against the highly contagious B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa. The country began administering the unapproved vaccine to healthcare workers in February as part of a study, after early data suggested the AstraZeneca vaccine offered “minimal protection” against the now-dominant variant.
A new trial is also underway to discover if two doses of the vaccine are better than one.
Canada’s approval of the vaccine closely follows that of the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advisory panel voted unanimously on Feb. 28 to recommend the shot for widespread use on Americans 18 and older.
Roess said the J&J vaccine opens the door to at-home vaccinations. Because of its flexible storage requirements and simpler regimen, vaccinators could technically “go out and reach people, instead of requiring them to come to where the vaccine is behind held.”
“Elderly people who can’t leave their home — they’re really going to benefit,” she added.
The shot is still pending review in the U.K. and European Union.
More than 500 million shots have been ordered through the COVAX vaccine sharing program, aimed at supplying poorer nations with the precious drug.
This is a breaking news story. More information to come.
— with files from Reuters and Global News’ Jackson Proskow
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