Health Canada has approved the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, paving the way for vaccinations to begin countrywide next week.
Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical adviser at Health Canada who oversaw the review process, said it is “a critical milestone in our fight against COVID-19.”
“This is a momentous occasion,” she said, unable to hold back a big smile. “The geek in me is amazed. No one would have thought as we looked back at the first discovery of the virus that less than a year later we’d be authorizing and then distributing the vaccine.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday Canada’s updated contract with the U.S. drugmaker and its German partner should see 249,000 doses shipped to Canada by the end of the month. But that was always pending the vaccine being deemed safe by Health Canada.
The regulatory team issued that determination at 9 a.m. eastern time Wednesday, and it was announced to the public two hours later. Sharma said Canadians should feel comfortable getting the vaccine when they are eligible to do so.
“Canadians can have confidence in our rigorous review process and that the vaccine was authorized only after a thorough assessment of the evidence demonstrated that it met Health Canada’s strict standards for safety, efficacy and quality.”
Sharma said while there is never zero risk in taking any kind of pharmaceutical, Health Canada is confident the benefits of the vaccine in protecting people against COVID-19 outweigh any dangers.
Adverse reactions to the vaccine have mainly been pain at the injection site, followed by fatigue and headaches.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, whose province recorded 1,890 new COVID-19 cases this morning and added 28 people to the death toll, called it “phenomenal news.” “As soon as vaccines arrive on Ontario soil, we will be ready to deliver and administer them,” he said in a statement. “Friends, the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter.”
Canada is the third country in the world to greenlight the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
The United Kingdom began inoculating people Tuesday after last week becoming the first to approve its use. The kingdom of Bahrain approved it last Friday.
The Food and Drug Administration in the United States said Tuesday it believed the vaccine was safe and effective. Regulators there are set to meet Thursday to decide whether to authorize it for emergency use.
The U.K. warned that two people had severe allergic reactions on the first day of vaccinations. The reactions are being investigated and the U.K. has asked people who are prone to severe allergic reactions to not get the vaccine for now. The two patients are recovering well, according to British authorities.
One of the two received the vaccine; the other was in the group that received the placebo.