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Canada to fast-track approvals for tweaks to COVID-19 vaccines for variants

Last Updated Mar 4, 2021 at 10:01 am PDT

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Modifications to COVID-19 vaccines approved in Canada to address variants will not have to undergo full approval process

Health Canada says modifications to COVID-19 vaccines still have to be reviewed and approved by the regulator

Federal advisory board says provinces will now be able to wait up to four months between doses of vaccines

OTTAWA (NEWS 1130) – Health Canada says it’s going to fast-track approvals for any modifications made to already approved COVID-19 vaccines in order to strengthen them against variants of concern.

The health agency says any modifications still have to be reviewed and approved by the regulator, and drugmakers will have to provide evidence it is strengthening the shot against the coronavirus.

“Outlining steps to measure protection by looking at the antibodies in the blood following vaccination and eliminating the need for lengthy clinical studies, this guidance will lead to important outcomes: Safe vaccines tailored to emerging variants, manufactured and made ready for use in significantly reduced time,” Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said Thursday.

Njoo called for Canadians to continue doing their part to limit the spread of COVID-19, even if they’ve received the shot.

“Continue to adhere to public health measures such as social distancing, wearing a mask, and washing your hands frequently — they do make a difference,” he said.

The new guidance comes as variants continue to spread through our nation and around the world. Health officials in Canada have previously said that variants pose a risk of sparking a third wave.

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Canada is taking the step of not requiring approval of modifications alongside regulators in the U.K., Australia, Singapore, and Switzerland.

Meanwhile, the timeline for overall vaccinations in Canada is set to be fast tracked as well. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization announced on Wednesday that provinces can wait up to four months between first and second doses — in line with a move made by B.C.’s top doctor earlier this week. With the current delivery schedule for COVID-19 vaccines, this means around 80 per cent of Canadians older than 16 could get their first shot by the end of June.


“This recommendation is based on clinical trial reports and emerging real-world evidence from around the world,” Njoo explained. “Data shows that several weeks after being administered, first doses of vaccines provide highly effective protection against symptomatic disease, hospitalization, and death.”

The federal government has long said its goal is to have enough vaccines for all Canadians by September.