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What Does The AstraZeneca Vaccine Mean For Canada?

March 10, 2021

Is the AstraZeneca Vaccine a Beacon of Hope?

Canada has approved Oxford–AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, making it the third shot officially authorized in the country. The approval by Health Canada follows that of Pfizer and Moderna.

The vaccine, which was developed with Oxford University has been key to Britain’s rapid vaccination rollout. The addition of a third vaccine, as well as the contributions from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, may help Canada alleviate mass disappointment about the slow moving rate of vaccination in the country.

AstraZeneca has licensed the manufacture of its ChAdOx1 vaccine to the Serum Institute of India, which distributes it under the brand name COVISHIELD. The first 500,000 doses will be delivered to Canada in the coming weeks and will quickly be ready for distribution to the provinces and territories. The remaining 1.5 million doses will arrive by mid-May.

The 2 million doses secured through this agreement are in addition to the 20 million doses already secured through an earlier agreement with AstraZeneca. Health Canada's authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine allows the Government of Canada to advance its work with AstraZeneca to finalize delivery schedules for the 20 million doses.

This announcement further establishes Canada's plan to be able to provide a vaccine to everyone in Canada for whom these COVID-19 vaccines are recommended, by the end of September.

Early Set-Backs

The AstraZeneca vaccine, the first virus vector-based inoculation for Covid-19 authorized in Canada, has had some stumbles. In trials in South Africa, where a more contagious virus variant has become dominant, it did not appear to protect people from mild or moderate illness, which led the country to halt its use of the vaccine.

Meanwhile some studies suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective overall than others, the sample sizes used were not large enough to yield a clear conclusion.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is not currently recommending the newly approved COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca be used on people aged 65 or older.

According to the NACI website, this is “due to limited information on the efficacy of this vaccine in this age group at this time.” However, the agency said the vaccine has “demonstrated an average efficacy of approximately 62 per cent in those aged 18-64 years of age.”

The NACI advice follows similar plans in many European countries. The European Medicines Agency said the vaccine could be used on all adults, but a number of countries decided not to use it for seniors because of the limited clinical data

Fast VAX Facts 


What kind of vaccine is AstraZeneca and how does it work?

  • AstraZeneca's vaccine is not an mRNA vaccine like Moderna’s and BioNTech-Pfizer’s, but a vector virus vaccine. It uses a harmless cold virus common to chimpanzees as a transport mechanism. The vaccine transports the surface protein of SARS-CoV-2 to human cells, where it triggers an immune response against the coronavirus.
  • Unlike the BioNTech-Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, AstraZeneca's does not have to be stored at ultralow temperatures. The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigeration temperatures (2-8 degrees Celsius/36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months.
  • BioNTech-Pfizer has had to design special temperature-controlled thermal shippers that use dry ice to maintain the recommended storage temperature conditions of -70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) for up to 10 days unopened.
  • According to AstraZeneca, the vaccine's simple supply chain and no-profit pledge will make it more affordable, but the exact price of a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not clear. AstraZeneca and BioNTech-Pfizer have both made agreements with COVAX, a global initiative that aims to distribute low-cost vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

*This article is not meant to be taken as medical advice. Please follow the advice of your local health authorities when making decisions about your own health and the people around you.
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