Johnson & Johnson Approval Gives Canada a 4th Vaccine Option

Canada’s public health agency licensed Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine, prompting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to say he’s optimistic about accelerating timelines for mass inoculation.

The approval, first reported by Canadian Broadcasting Corp., was announced at a briefing by health officials in Ottawa Friday morning. At a separate press conference, Trudeau said the country would be receiving more doses of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine sooner than expected. The government’s target is to vaccinate every Canadian that wants a shot by the end of September.

“Based on delivery schedules, it is possible we have further good news and good predictions to share” on the timeline, Trudeau said. At the same time, there remains too much uncertainty around supply to formally change the target, he said.

In all, Canada now expects to have 118 million doses available by the end of September, for a population of 38 million. Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in an interview Thursday it was “highly likely” the September goal will be moved forward.

Johnson & Johnson Approval Gives Canada a 4th Vaccine Option

In Ontario, home to 39% of Canada’s population, retired General Rick Hillier said the province is pushing to get a first dose to all eligible residents who want one by the start of summer, in June. Hillier is in charge of Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine becomes the fourth shot authorized in a country struggling to keep up with its Group of Seven peers on inoculations. Unlike the three others approved, it requires only a single dose.

Canada will receive 10 million doses by the end of the third quarter, the New Jersey-based company said in a statement. The government has an agreement to purchase up to 38 million in total.

Trudeau also announced Pfizer will ship 1.5 million more doses than planned this month, giving the country a total of 8 million shots by the end of March from all suppliers. That’s up from an originally scheduled 6 million doses.

The government has faced criticism over the slow pace of vaccinations. The country has administered just 5.7 doses per 100 people, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, while the U.S. and U.K. have given 24.9 and 32.9 doses for each 100 of their citizens, respectively.

The Pfizer-BioNTech SE vaccine was the first to be approved in Canada on Dec. 9 and health authorities began vaccinating healthcare workers and other vulnerable urban populations the following week. Moderna Inc.’s vaccine was licensed two weeks later on Dec. 23, which expanded the country’s inoculation drive to rural and northern regions due to easier transportation requirements. AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine was authorized on Feb 26.

More than 22,000 people have died of Covid-19 since the pandemic began in March 2020.

Government officials have attributed the slow pace, in part, to Canada’s expansive geography, the temperature requirements of the Pfizer shot and a healthcare system that leaves it to each province to organize vaccinations. But temporary shipment cuts around the end of January put Trudeau in an uncomfortable spot, as critics questioned the strength of Canada’s contracts and its ability to sway manufacturers.

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