Sask. top doctor urges public to accept whichever vaccine is available, regardless of brand

The province’s top doctor says those who are eligible to get a vaccine should do so, regardless of which brand it is.

The newly-approved AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is expected to arrive in Saskatchewan in a couple of weeks. It has a lower efficacy rate than the first two COVID-19 vaccines that were approved in Canada, but Dr. Saqib Shahab says that shouldn’t matter to Saskatchewan residents. 

“At some point in the future there may be a choice, or there may not be. But I think at this point it is so vital to get protection as quickly as it is available,” said Shahab at a press conference in Regina on Thursday. 

“Please accept the vaccine that is available when you are eligible, and I will do the same. Any of the three approved vaccines in Canada are safe, effective, equivalent and we should accept whichever vaccine is available.”

Since Shahab’s Thursday comments, a fourth vaccine has been approved. The four COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada are Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford and, as of Friday, the new Johnson & Johnson single-shot vaccine. 

“Of course if people want to have a specific vaccine, they’ll have to wait a little bit longer. There’s no guarantee that it will be available even at a later date,” Shahab said. 

Efficacy rates

Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says no one should be choosy with the COVID-19 vaccine that is available to them. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine was recently approved for use in Canada following clinical trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil that showed a 62.1 per cent efficacy in reducing symptomatic cases of COVID-19 cases among those given the vaccine. Experts have said any vaccine with an efficacy rate of over 50 per cent could help stop outbreaks.

And Health Canada recently concluded that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has an efficacy rate of 66.9 per cent in preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 illness, and has authorized it for use for adults aged 18 and older.

According to Health Canada, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is less effective than previously approved vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — both of which had efficacy rates of 90 per cent and above.

But Health Canada’s Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said the Johnson and Johnson shot offers strong protection against the threats that matter most: serious illness, hospitalizations and death.

“The efficacy rate does not mean that following vaccination with a vaccine with 66 per cent efficacy, that you will have a 34 per cent chance of contracting COVID-19,” said Sharma.

“While each of the vaccines Health Canada has authorized has different efficacy numbers, the reality is that you will have a greatly reduced chance of getting COVID-19 with any of the … vaccines that have been authorized.”

Vaccinating Saskatchewan 

Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine has received regulatory approval from Health Canada for use in this country. (Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images)

In a statement to the CBC, the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health said that it is looking forward to receiving further information regarding when and how many Johnson & Johnson doses the province will be receiving.

“With the announcement to advance the single-dose strategy in Saskatchewan, additional safe and effective vaccines will help the province meet its target to vaccinate all adult residents with one dose as quickly as possible,” said the statement.

On Thursday the province announced a four-month gap between first and second vaccine doses. That means every adult resident will have access to a vaccine by June. 

Because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is single-dose, residents who receive that shot will be fully vaccinated immediately. 

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan’s AstraZeneca-Oxford doses are set to be distributed on March 22 and will be available in six major hubs throughout the province.

“The right vaccine is the vaccine that’s in front of you, and I think given the expedited process that ensured safety and efficacy of these vaccines that are available to us, you know, the real world evidence is speaking to us across countries,” said Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone.

The province says its phone-in immunization booking system is undergoing final testing and is expected to launch next week.

(CBC News Graphics)

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