Health Canada says it is still waiting on some “information and data” about Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine, but expects its review to be completed “in the coming weeks.”
The health agency’s statement came after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to the vaccine on Friday. The U.S. was the first country to grant approval to Moderna.
Health Canada has been reviewing Moderna’s vaccine, which uses similar mRNA technology as the already approved Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, since Oct. 12. The review is being done through “rolling submissions,” where information is provided as it becomes available.
“There is still information and data to be provided by Moderna for review,” the agency said, without specifying.
“Health Canada is working hard to give Canadians access to COVID-19 vaccines as quickly as possible and will not compromise its safety, efficacy and quality standards.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said deliveries of as many as 168,000 doses could begin within 48 hours of the vaccine getting the green light.
Using every last drop
Meanwhile, some Canadian health officials say they are making plans to ensure not a single drop of COVID-19 vaccine is wasted.
Many regions have created standby lists of health-care workers in hospitals near vaccination clinics, so those workers can be called for any spare doses that need to be administered fast.
Across the country, some 30,000 people are getting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at 14 different sites as part of the largest mass vaccination effort in Canadian history.
Each region has varying plans to deliver their limited doses of the difficult-to-handle vaccine to high-risk recipients.
And time is of the essence. Once the vaccine is thawed and prepared, it must be used within five days.
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In Manitoba, if someone does not show up for an appointment, front-line staff from a nearby hospital are brought in for the shot, said Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief provincial public health officer.
There have been a few cases this week in Ontario where people who were scheduled for vaccinations were unable to get them, said Ana Fernandes, a public affairs adviser for the University Health Network.
The Ontario government has prioritized people working in long-term care homes in its COVID-19 vaccination pilot sites and there are strict criteria for who can take it.
Fernandes said officials have created a list of people who work in emergency rooms, intensive care departments and COVID-19 units in nearby hospitals. Twice a day, if there are unused doses, calls are made to people on the list.
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Lessons from these pilot sites are important, she said, so no vaccination opportunities are lost as distribution ramps up.
Another 200,000 doses are expected in Canada next week, bound for 70 distribution sites.
Health Canada has said vials may contain a bit more than the five doses they are supposed to have. If possible, clinic staff can draw an additional dose or maybe even two. But mixing from vials is not recommended as it could result in cross-contamination, loss of sterility or improper dosing.
“The bottom line is don’t throw it away,” Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said Friday.
She said staff who are giving vaccinations should check to see if there’s enough vaccine for an extra dose in each vial.
She also said that if people forget to show up for their vaccination appointments, including for the required second dose, they should still get the shots another time.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 8:30 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 495,346, with 75,695 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 14,040.
New Brunswick became the final province to begin its COVID-19 vaccinations on Saturday morning. The first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in New Brunswick was administered to long-term care home resident Pauline Gauvin, 84, at the Miramichi Regional Hospital.
The province reported no new cases on Friday.
British Columbia announced 624 new cases of COVID-19 and 11 more deaths on Friday. The province also said 1,376 more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine were administered to front-line health-care workers, for a total of 2,592 doses to date.
Alberta registered 1,413 new infections and 25 more fatalities on Friday. The province also said a record 141 people are in intensive care.
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Saskatchewan saw 245 new cases and two additional deaths on Friday.
Manitoba announced 350 new cases and 10 new deaths on Friday.
Ontario, which reported 2,290 new cases and 40 more deaths on Friday, tightened restrictions in five regions amid mounting strain on its hospitals.
Hamilton will move into lockdown; Brant County and Niagara Region move into the red or “control” zone; the public health unit for Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington moves into the orange or “restrict” zone on the province’s colour-coded system; and Timiskaming is moving into yellow or “protect” zone.
The restrictions take effect Monday and will remain in place until at least Jan. 4.
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Quebec reported 1,773 new cases and 36 more deaths on Friday.
For the second day in a row, the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations broke the 1,000 mark, with 1,011 patients in hospital, including 141 in intensive care.
The province is getting ready to ramp up its vaccination campaign by expanding it to a total of 21 sites across 15 regions starting next week.
Nova Scotia recorded seven new cases on Friday, while Newfoundland and Labrador reported five new cases.
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Prince Edward Island Friday announced further easing of public health rules, saying it will relax rules for visitors inside and outside health-care centres and hospitals.
Nunavut Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson said Friday an outbreak in Sanikiluaq is officially over.
Northwest Territories health officials identified two new cases Friday — one in Yellowknife, and another in a non-resident worker at the territory’s Gahcho Kué mine, located 280 kilometres northwest of the capital.
What’s happening around the world
As of Saturday morning, more than 75.8 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, with more than 42.7 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a COVID-19 tracking tool maintained by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The global death toll stood at more than 1.6 million.
In the Americas, Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the United States were working through the weekend to complete a $900 billion US coronavirus aid bill for American individuals and businesses struggling from the economic fallout of pandemic lockdowns.
It would be the largest relief package since this spring, when Congress approved more than $4 trillion in aid. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed 311,000 Americans, by far the most in the world, and put millions out of work. Economists say growth will likely remain sluggish until vaccines are widely available in mid-2021.
In Panama, the country will next week reimpose nationwide curbs on movement by requiring men and women to carry out festive shopping on different days, the health minister said on Friday, imposing drastic measures following a surge in coronavirus cases. The restrictions are similar to what the Central American nation imposed in the worst-hit parts of the country in June. On Christmas and New Year’s Day there will be total quarantine for both genders.
In Europe, Switzerland became the latest country to approve the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Two months after receiving the application, Swissmedic granted authorization for the vaccine for people aged 16 and older after a rolling review of documents being submitted. The Swiss health agency said on Saturday a countrywide vaccination program could start from Jan. 4 with an initial batch of around 100,000 doses.
In the Middle East, Turkey said nine people were killed Saturday at an intensive care unit treating COVID-19 patients after an oxygen cylinder exploded. The state-run Anadolu news agency said the fire occurred at the privately run Sanko University Hospital unit in Gaziantep, 850 kilometres southeast of Istanbul. It cited a hospital statement identifying the victims as being between 56 and 85. The fire was quickly brought under control.
In Asia, India’s coronavirus cases have crossed 10 million with new infections dipping to their lowest levels in three months, as the country prepares for a massive COVID-19 vaccination effort in the new year. Additional cases in the past 24 hours dropped to 25,152 from a peak of nearly 100,000 in mid-September. The epidemic has infected nearly one per cent of India’s more than 1.3 billion people, second to the worst-hit United States.
In China, the country says it will soon begin coronavirus inoculations for workers in health care, transport and border control. The vice minister of the National Health Commission says the government is prioritizing those most at risk. Workers in logistics and in markets selling fresh meat and seafood would also be placed higher on the list of those receiving vaccines, along with the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.
In Australia, a quarter million people in Sydney’s northern beach suburbs were ordered on Saturday into a strict lockdown until Christmas Eve to help contain a coronavirus cluster with authorities fearing it may spread across Australia’s most populous city.
New South Wales (NSW) state government is to announce on Sunday whether further restrictions will be imposed on the rest of Sydney, home to around five million people.
“I want to make that clear, to say to greater Sydney, please, please, do not go out tonight or the next few days unless you really have to,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said at a news conference.