Feds plan to push ahead with J&J vaccine procurement despite U.S. pause
OTTAWA -- The federal procurement minister says the government will welcome the millions of Johnson & Johnson doses they’ve already purchased, so long as Health Canada deems that vaccine safe and effective for use.
Asked at a House of Commons committee whether Canada should cancel its contract with the supplier given the rare risk of blood clots after inoculation, Minister Anita Anand said the government is following the regulatory body’s advice.
“Health Canada has deemed both J&J and AstraZeneca, and Pfizer, Moderna safe and effective, and as a result we will continue with our procurements of these vaccines,” she said on Wednesday.
“Until we hear otherwise from Health Canada, our procurements are all systems go.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been approved for use in Canada since March 5, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is still expecting the first shipment to arrive this month.
On Tuesday, Health Canada said it was monitoring the developments south of the border where the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have paused the use of the drug. The regulators are awaiting further review of the six reported cases of blood clots in the country in women between the ages of 18 and 48, out of more than 6.8 million doses administered.
In a statement, Johnson & Johnson said they are aware of the “extremely rare disorder involving people with blood clots in combination with low platelets in a small number of individuals,” and that safety is their top priority.
As a result, the company has “proactively” delayed its rollout of tens of millions of doses of the vaccine in Europe, but did not indicate whether Canada would see the same kind of holdup.
Anand fielded criticism of the government’s procurement strategy and dismissed the opposition’s critique that the minister was “bragging” about her work despite delays and concerns about the pace of the rollout.
“We’ve had record numbers of vaccines coming into this country, more than expected, 3.5 million more vaccines than expected in Q1, we’ll have 44 million here by the end of Q2,” she said. “There have been delays of Moderna doses by a few days, but other than that, in recent months and weeks, the deliveries have been much more stable than they were at the beginning of 2021.”
She said Ottawa doesn’t “hang on” to doses, using the Moderna shipment that arrived in Canada on Tuesday as an example.
“They are being delivered out to the provinces. They are 90 per cent complete,” she said. “As soon as they come into this country, whether it’s Moderna or AstraZeneca, they are shipped right out to the provinces and territories.”
Anand also reaffirmed the government’s commitment to have enough vaccines in the country to be able to vaccinate every Canadian with their first shot by the end of June, and their second shot by the end of September or before.
In an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play, Health Canada's chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said that while the regulator has authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Canada, the manufacturing sites where batches ship from will also have to be approved.
“Health Canada is looking at that, that’s one piece, so before anything gets distributed in Canada, that would have to be authorized,” she said, adding that in her view it’s “reasonable” for the U.S. to pause the drug at this time while they continue their review, and that Canada is involved in those discussions.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Rachel Aiello