Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, issued the following statement today:
“As Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, it is a priority for me that Canadians are equipped with accurate and evidence-based information in order to make well-informed decisions about their health. This is the first in a series of more focused weekend statements in which I will be exploring a range of health and science-based topics related to COVID-19. These are intended to be informative, evidence-based pieces that aim to provide Canadians with additional information on key issues and questions on COVID-19, such as those related to vaccination, and help to address the increasing amounts of mis- and dis-information connected to these issues.
This has been an historical and very encouraging week for Canadians in terms of moving forward through this pandemic, given Health Canada’s announcement of the authorization of the first COVID-19 vaccine in Canada – the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (Tozinameran or BNT162b2). This is a real sign of hope, which has arrived earlier than expected.
Pfizer-BioNTech will be providing Canada with up to 249,000 early doses of their COVID-19 vaccine this month. We expect the first doses of vaccine to arrive in Canada this coming week. Dry runs have been completed and the initial deliveries provide further opportunity to gain experience in program implementation and handling of a vaccine that requires storage at ultra-cold temperatures.
As I noted in my remarks earlier in the week, vaccine roll-out will be a complex operation. The federal government has been working very closely with provincial and territorial governments, as well as public health partners, to ensure there is timely, fair and a well-coordinated rollout of this vaccine. The process of vaccine rollout is presented in Canada’s detailed COVID-19 Immunization Plan. The plan maps out how safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines will be made accessible for all Canadians who want them, in an efficient and coordinated manner.
During the initial stage of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, vaccine supply will be limited, but every effort is being made to ensure access of COVID-19 vaccine to all Canadians in 2021. A phased approach is being prepared for vaccine delivery that prioritizes Canadians who need early access to the vaccine. The overall approach to allocation is on a per capita basis, with adjustments made to account for the complexity of delivering vaccines to the Territories, and remote and isolated Indigenous communities.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) provided expert advice to support provinces and territories in prioritizing early vaccines that considers those who are at higher risk of COVID-19, meaning those most likely to experience severe disease and outcomes and/or those who are at increased risk of being exposed to the virus. This includes staff and residents of long-term care homes, health care workers delivering direct patient care, seniors starting with those 80 years of age or older, and adults in Indigenous communities where infection can have disproportionate consequences. NACI will be providing more specific recommendations related to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine this coming week and will update its advice as more clinical data becomes available.
While timeliness of vaccine delivery is essential, immunizations must also be safe, efficacious and meet the highest quality standards. Health Canada has a rigorous regulatory review process that evaluates vaccine safety and efficacy in preventing the diseases they target and whether the benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risks. Sharing information with Canadians is and will continue to be a priority. This includes details about the review and ongoing monitoring of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which you can find here.
Like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects and reactions. After being vaccinated, it’s common to have mild side effects, such as redness and swelling at the injection site — this is the body’s natural response, as it’s working to build immunity against a disease. In most instances, these effects resolve quickly and completely. However, it is also possible for someone to have a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine. The chances of this are extremely rare — generally less than one in a million. Canada has a well-established vaccine safety monitoring system. Once the vaccine is on the market, Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will monitor for any adverse events after immunization, in collaboration with the provinces and territories and the manufacturer.
As welcome as news of a first vaccine for Canadians may be, it is very important to understand that the events of the past week do not change our current situation. Canada, as well as many other countries, are still experiencing high COVID-19 infection rates, which have placed intense strain on our hospitals and health systems, as well as the health workers that have been on the frontlines of this crisis for many months. For this reason, it is crucial that we continue with public health measures to protect ourselves, and others, in the coming months. We must also remember that while the vaccine offers protection against disease, data does not yet exist on prevention of transmission – further reason to maintain our collective efforts.
I encourage you to stay tuned for my next statements in this series where I will shed further light on these recent vaccine developments. And please remember that while our holidays are expected to be very different this year, the good news of this past week can help to keep our spirits up, and our outlook positive into 2021.”