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Review of second COVID-19 vaccine to be completed in coming weeks, health officials say

Wednesday, December 16, 2020 @ 3:54 PM | By Ian Burns

Federal officials overseeing the rollout of vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic say there is no specific timeline yet to roll out a vaccine from biotechnology company Moderna, but the assessment is expected to be completed in the coming weeks and planning is already in place to distribute it once final determinations are made.

According to federal officials at a press conference Dec. 16, Health Canada has been reviewing the vaccine since it was submitted Oct. 12 but there is still quality information to be studied. Canada’s deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said the regulatory system is independent and the process has to be respected.

“We don’t want to put undue pressure on them. We are waiting diligently and there should be information in the near future,” he said. “Things are happening quickly, and communication is crucial, but we are not at the end of living with COVID-19 — rather we are at the beginning of the end.”

But Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is overseeing vaccine distribution for the federal government, said dry runs of the rollout of the vaccine are being done in anticipation of it being approved with shots being administered by the end of the month.

“The rehearsals of this nature are part of a deliberate and phased approach to readiness in advance of an authorization from Health Canada,” he said. “We are taking deliberate steps to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of the Moderna vaccine across the country, including Indigenous communities, once Health Canada has completed the review process. We will deliver the Moderna vaccine to the locations specified by province and territories so they can start immunization as quickly as possible once it is approved and available.”

The Moderna vaccine would be the second to be given the nod in Canada after the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is being administered across the country, was approved Dec. 9. But it must be kept at temperatures between -70 and -80 degrees Celsius, and doing that is difficult for more remote, northern and Indigenous communities who may not have the freezers which would be required to store it. Moderna’s vaccine must be kept at a more manageable -20C.

Dr. Evan Adams, chief medical officer of the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), said the vaccines will “almost certainly” be delivered directly to the provinces and then distributed outwards in collaboration with Indigenous communities and federal officials.

“It is imperative that First Nations, Inuit and Métis be partners with the provinces and territories in the planning for culturally safe and equitable vaccine access in both rural and urban areas,” he said. “We are taking deliberate steps to ensure the safe and efficient distribution of the Moderna vaccine candidate across Canada, especially in the territories, Indigenous and remote communities.”

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