Health Canada has approved a bivalent vaccine that notably attacks Omicron
OTTAWA — Health Canada on Thursday approved the use in adults of a first COVID-19 vaccine that targets both the original strain of the coronavirus and the Omicron variant.
« It’s basically two vaccines in one, » said Dr. Marc Berthiaume, director of Health Canada’s Office of Medical Sciences, during an information session about the new vaccine produced by Moderna.
This so-called “bivalent” vaccine, authorized for use as a booster dose, specifically targets the BA.1 subvariant of Omicron, public health officials said.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said a first shipment of 780,000 doses would arrive in Canada on Friday. In all, 10.5 million doses are expected by Ottawa by the end of September and Health Canada expects the supply to be sufficient to update the vaccination of all Canadians 18 years of age and older.
Doses of a similar vaccine from Pfizer, currently being evaluated by Health Canada, may also arrive once the green light is given.
Mr. Duclos urged Canadians to get a booster dose if their previous vaccination dates back six months or more.
“Over the next few weeks, as our children return to school or we ourselves return to the office, scheduling our booster dose should be at the top of our to-do list,” said said the minister, comparing the need to be up to date with your immunization against COVID-19 to that of recharging your phone.
As the new vaccine designed based on the BA.1 subvariant begins rolling out, Health Canada has already invited Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna to submit data for a possible vaccine specifically targeting the newer BA.4 and BA variants. 5.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, said the regulator expects to receive responses from these companies within the next two weeks.
The fact remains that the vaccine that got the green light on Thursday is still useful to protect against more recent sub-variants, insisted Dr. Berthiaume.
“Currently the data on the family of Omicron variants is that if we have protection with the bivalent vaccine containing the Omicron BA.1 variant, we have good protection against the BA.4 and BA.5 variant. It becomes fine distinctions, but, in fact, the protection is there, ”he explained.
In addition, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has announced that it recommends the administration of the newly approved vaccine to adolescents aged 12 to 17 « with moderate to severe immunosuppression or with biological or social risk factors that put them at high risk of severe effects from COVID-19.”
The UK approved Moderna’s bivalent vaccine two weeks ago and the US Food and Drug Administration gave Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech the green light earlier this week.
The vaccines authorized by the American authorities make it possible to attack more specifically BA.4 and BA.5
The Omicron variant arrived in Canada in late 2021 and has been spreading aggressively ever since. According to the most recent data released by Ottawa, its BA.5 subvariant accounted for 85.6% of COVID-19 cases sampled during the week of August 7. Over the same period, the prevalence of BA.4 reached 10.5% and that of BA.1, 0.2%.
The Deputy Chief Administrator of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), Dr Howard Njoo, has discouraged those due for a booster dose from postponing their appointment if the bivalent vaccine is not available to them immediately.
“People who choose to delay a booster dose to await the arrival of a new vaccine should carefully consider their individual risk that this choice may entail,” he said.
He recalled that vaccines against COVID-19 designed according to the original strain of the virus remain effective.
« What is important is timely vaccination and the best protection is to receive your booster dose as soon as possible, » added PHAC Chief Administrator Dr. Theresa Tam.
According to public health estimates cited by Minister Duclos, if 90% rather than 60% of Canadians are « up to date with their vaccinations », the level of hospitalization attributable to COVID-19 will be reduced by 90% « at the late fall or early winter.
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