By Mike Baker
It’s interesting how quickly things can change in the world of science, especially as it pertains to COVID-19.
Looking back to the final few months of 2020, shortly after Health Canada had approved both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for use across the country, all the talk was of an entirely different medication that health care professionals and some select politicians felt should have been front of the queue.
Indeed, the hype and furore surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine was substantial. At its height, last fall, the drug was labelled as something of a coronavirus saviour – the shot in the arm the world needed to get back to normal.
Even here in Haliburton County, the local health region’s acting medical officer of health Dr. Ian Gemmill lauded the AstraZeneca vaccine as a “game changer,” due to its ability to be stored in fridges as opposed to high-level freezers and capacity to, supposedly, be administered in a single dose.
As we so often see in the world though, hype dies. And boy did it ever die with AstraZeneca.
By the time the drug was approved for use in Canada last Thursday [Feb. 26], it had already been labelled a failure by many experts. Perhaps that is unfair, especially since the vaccine shows that it does, largely, prevent serious cases of COVID-19 that can often lead to death. Still, for something many felt would be a game changer, results from various clinical trials have flattered to deceive to this point.
When compared alongside the Pfizer and Moderna products, which each boasted 95 per cent effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 infections during its trials, efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine is believed to be around 62 per cent, as reported by CBC. Not terrible, but not great either.
When questioned on this, Supriya Sharma, chief medical officer of Health Canada, said the benefits of bringing the AstraZeneca vaccine to Canada far outweighed the negatives.
And, honestly, she’s right. Since giving the green light to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in December, around 1.9 million doses have been administered. According to CBC, that accounts for around 2.6 per cent of our population being vaccinated. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reassuring the nation that all those who want to receive the vaccine will have the opportunity to get it by September, we really need to get a move on.
Canada ordered 24 million doses of AstraZeneca, to go along with the 40 million doses of Pfizer and 44 million doses of Moderna that have already been secured. Collectively, that’s enough to inoculate nearly 54 million people. With a population of around 38 million here in Canada, that’s more than enough to go around. The problem is going to be making sure all of those doses arrive when they’re supposed to.
We saw how quickly things can go awry last month, when the shutdown of a Pfizer production plant in Belgium halted delivery of the vaccine to Canada. We need to have as many options available to us as possible, so that when issues occur we can continue pressing forward. It was good news to hear that a fourth vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, could be approved later this month.
AstraZeneca may not be as effective at providing complete protection as some of the other options, but at the end of the day it’s proven that it prevents the most serious cases. It’s stopping people from dying.
Given the number of lives we’ve lost due to this horrible virus – 22,006 here in Canada as of press time, and 2.53 million worldwide – that’s the important take away. In my view, that should be the only take away.