Toronto Star

U.K. vaccine approval takes heat off other regulators

Virologist says move is a good sign of efficacy as Canada continues review


Eyes around the world were on Britain on Wednesday, with one question looming large: Who’s next?

The U.K.’s decision to grant the world’s first approval to a fully tested COVID-19 vaccine will take the pressure of other regulators, Health Canada among them, that are still flipping through the hundreds of thousands of pages that chart the dose’s developmen­t, says a former member of Canada’s H1N1 vaccine task group.

“They’re all looking at the same set of data,” says Dr. Earl Brown, who is also a virologist at the University of Ottawa. “So it will actually take the pressure off some, because when you aren’t the first one, you are the second one; that’s always reassuring.”

The green light for the candidate made by Pfizer and BioNTech represents a major win in avaccine developmen­t race that experts say has seen scientific innovation moving at blistering speeds, with the U.K. approval coming just shy of a full year since the coronaviru­s pandemic is considered to have started.

“Today’s emergency use authorisat­ion in the UK marks a historic moment in the fight against Covid-19,” Albert Bourla, chair and chief executive officer of Pfizer, said in a statement posted on the company’s website.

Now that the U.K. has licensed the Pfizer vaccine, officials there are saying they could have access to as many as 800,000 doses available by next week, with vaccinatio­n to begin with the most vulnerable.

Canada has an agreement to buy at least 20 million doses from Pfizer as well as an option to buy another 56 million.

Brown said that Canadian scientists will still do their due diligence and the decision-making process can take time, especially when dealing with a complex set of data. For example, Canadian scientists will need to look at how the vaccine works in all age groups and demographi­cs.

Still, the first regulatory approval is a good sign for the vaccine’s efficacy and an indication that things are starting to fall into place for an eventual vaccine, Brown said.

Over the past year, companies and research teams have been locked in a race to develop a vaccine, heralded as one of the things that could finally bring the pandemic to heel. There are hundreds in developmen­t and currently about a dozen in Phase 3, or the final stage of human testing.

It’s a company’s responsibi­lity to put its vaccine through progressiv­ely larger rounds of human testing, with scientists eventually studying their dose’s safety and efficacy in tens of thousands of people.

But the final decision on whether or not it will ever be used in a country is up to that nation’s regulator.

In Canada, the decision rests with Health Canada.

Its regulatory review of the Pfizer dose has been underway for weeks, and last week officials said they were on track to make a decision by mid-December, which is about the same timeline as the European and American regulators.

Once a COVID-19 vaccine is approved in Canada, officials will be able to begin distributi­on. Federal officials in Canada have said that we aren’t expected to see doses begin to arrive until early next week, a timeline that has generated outrage from the opposition, which has questioned why shipments won’t begin sooner.

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