The approval of two additional vaccines against COVID-19 in the past week is going to be a game-changer in the fight against the coronavirus, says Dr. Matthew Tenenbaum, associate medical officer of Health for Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health.
On Friday Health Canada announced it had approved a single-shot vaccine by Johnson & Johnson, just one week after approving the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19.
Having the two announcements within such a short time period has made for an exciting week, said Tenenbaum by phone on Friday. Having more available vaccines puts more tools in the health unit’s tool belt and means a greater security of supply.
“It wasn’t that long ago we had very few doses because of some of the supply chain issues with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but the more kinds of vaccines we have approved, the less susceptible we are going to be as a system to those kinds of disruptions and the more we are going to be able to get to and maintain a stead high rate of immunizations.”
The Johnson & Johnson vaccines is single-dose, as opposed to the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that WDG Public Health has been using to date. Both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines can also be stored at between 2 C and 8 C, unlike Pfizer and Moderna which each require much colder temperatures for storage.
“If we think about expanding into new ways to deliver vaccines, these new vaccines make that easier and more possible,” said Tenenbaum.
Single-dose vaccines simplify the process of mass vaccinations, said Tenenbaum, because Public Health does not need to schedule a follow up and keep track of which two-dose vaccine a patient may have received a month or more ago.
Part of the province’s plan for AstraZeneca is to have it administered through pharmacies, but Guelph and area is not a part of that current pilot project.
“The province is beginning with a pilot of some pharmacies and they are focusing on the GTA, Windsor-Essex area and the Kingston area,” said Tenenbaum. “My expectation is based upon those pilots there will be an expansion down the road, but that’s where they are starting.”
WDG Public Health is awaiting word from the province as to how the two newly-approved vaccines are to be administered and to whom. On Thursday the province announced AstraZeneca will be targeted to those between the ages of 60 and 64.
“I think if we received the vaccine we would determine what we are allowed to do with it and make sure we can get the vaccine into the arms that are the highest priority,” said Tenenbaum. “My expectation is we would receive the direction around storage and handling, around how to use it in advance or along side the actual supply itself. That should be coming very shortly.”
Tenenbaum hopes the availability of more vaccines will allow the health unit to accelerate the rate of vaccinations and he said WDG Public Health will strive to meet or exceed the provincial targets.
“The availability of more vaccines gives me the optimism that we can push the timelines forward,” said Tenenbaum. “We have been immunizing a lot of people recently, but we are going to be continuing to scale up. I am looking forward to being able to reliably do thousands of doses per day, every day.”
He said he isn’t sure yet if people will be able to pick and choose a vaccine of their liking.
“I guess it depends first and foremost on our vaccine supply mix is and what it’s going to be. We don’t know what that is going to look like yet and that is one of the big question marks that determines the answer to that,” he said. “Things are moving pretty fast but we are still waiting on more information.”
Although the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have proven to be more effective in trials than AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, Tenenbaum notes each trial was conducted under its own conditions at different points in time, not pitted head-to-head.
“In general anyone can receive any one of these vaccines and we believe it’s going to provide them the protection they need,” said Tenenbaum. “These are all very efficacious, very safe vaccines.”