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

Firefighters battled a burning home on farmland in the north end of Vernon Saturday, April 17, 2021. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
UPDATE: Homeowner taken to hospital after Vernon home destroyed by fire

Firefighters engaged in a lengthy battle against the engulfed structure Saturday afternoon

The Regional District of North Okanagan has purchased a watercraft to be used by the BC Conservation Officer Service, who will conduct enhanced boat patrols on the Shuswap River during the 2021 floating season. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
Boat purchased to provide enhanced Shuswap River oversight this floating season

The regional district purchased an extra watercraft to be used by Conservation Officers this year

The West Kelowna Warriors beat the Vernon Vipers 3-2 in BCHL action Friday, April 16, 2021. (Lisa Mazurek Photography)
West Kelowna goaltender stymies Vernon Vipers for 3-2 win

The Warriors were outshot 44-23 Friday night, but it didn’t bother Johnny Derrick

A group of youth in Kelowna's Knox Mountain Park are suspected as having violated the B.C. Wildlife Act by harassing a pair of nesting bald eagles with a drone Friday, April 16, 2021. (Conservation Officer Service photo)
Nesting bald eagles harassed by youth-piloted drone in Kelowna

Conservation Officers are hoping to hear from anyone who witnessed the Knox Mountain incident

Nick Clements captured a photo of the Northern Lights over Oyama Friday night, April 16, 2021. (Nick Clements photo)
PHOTOS: Northern Lights colour Okanagan night

Residents saw the dazzling green aurora borealis throughout the valley Friday night

Vancouver resident Beryl Pye was witness to a “concerning,” spontaneous dance party that spread throughout social groups at Kitsilano Beach on April 16. (Screen grab/Beryl Pye)
VIDEO: Dance party erupts at Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach to the dismay of onlookers

‘It was a complete disregard for current COVID-19 public health orders,’ says Vancouver resident Beryl Pye

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

B.C. homeowners are being urged to take steps to prepare for the possibility of a flood by moving equipment and other assets to higher ground. (J.R. Rardon)
‘Entire province faces risk’: B.C. citizens urged to prepare for above-average spring flooding

Larger-than-normal melting snowpack poses a threat to the province as warmer weather touches down

Vancouver-based Doubleview Gold Corp. is developing claims in an area north of Telegraph Creek that occupies an important place in Tahltan oral histories, said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO)
B.C. Indigenous nation opposes mineral exploration in culturally sensitive area

There’s “no way” the Tahltan would ever support a mine there, says Chad Norman Day, president of its central government

Stz’uminus Elder George Harris, Ladysmith Mayor Aaron Stone, and Stz’uminus Chief Roxanne Harris opened the ceremony. (Cole Schisler photo)
Symbolic red dresses rehung along B.C. highway after vandals tore them down

Leaders from Stz’uminus First Nation and the Town of Ladysmith hung new dresses on Sat. April 17

A Western toadlet crosses the centre line of Elk View Road in Chilliwack on Aug. 26, 2010. A tunnel underneath the road has since been installed to help them migrate cross the road. Saturday, April 24 is Save the Frogs Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress File)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of April 18 to 24

Save the Frogs Day, Love Your Thighs Day and Scream Day are all coming up this week

Local carpenter Tyler Bohn embarked on a quest to create the East Sooke Treehouse, after seeing people build similar structures on a Discovery Channel show. (East Sooke Treehouse Facebook photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. carpenter builds fort inspired by TV’s ‘Treehouse Masters’

The whimsical structure features a wooden walking path, a loft, kitchen – and is now listed on Airbnb

The Attorney General’s Ministry says certain disputes may now be resolved through either a tribunal or the court system, pending its appeal of a B.C. Supreme Court decision that reduced the tribunal’s jurisdiction. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Court of Appeal grants partial stay in ruling on B.C. auto injuries

B.C. trial lawyers challenged legislation brought in to cap minor injury awards and move smaller court disputes to the Civil Resolution Tribunal

An Extinction Rebellion Vancouver Island (XRVI) climate change event in 2019 saw a large crowd occupy the Johnson Street bridge. Black Press File Photo
‘In grief for our dying world’: B.C. climate activists embark on 4-day protest

Demonstrators will walk through Vancouver for the first two days before boarding a ferry Sunday morning

Most Read