Canada has become the latest country to approve Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine – describing it as “safe, effective and of good quality”.
In a statement, Health Canada said the authorisation was a “critical milestone” in the fight against COVID-19 – and stressed that the review process had been “rigorous”.
The country is set to receive 249,000 doses this month, and four million doses by the end of March.
Overall, Canada has a firm order for 20 million doses of this vaccine with an option to buy 56 million more, meaning it has purchased more shots per head than any other country.
Officials stressed that they “will closely monitor the safety of the vaccine once it is on the market and will not hesitate to take action if any safety concerns are identified”.
At present, Canada is allowing people over the age of 16 to receive the vaccine, but said the rollout may be extended to young people once “clinical trials on children of all age groups” are completed.
The announcement comes a week after the UK became the first country in the world to approve Pfizer’s vaccine, which was shown to be 95% effective at preventing illness in large-scale clinical trials.
On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the first doses of Pfizer’s vaccine will arrive in Canada by the end of December.
The vaccine is going to be administered for free nationwide – and just like the UK, Canada has said it plans to prioritise the most vulnerable in its society, as well as the doctors and carers who look after them.
In an attempt to assuage concerns about how rapidly the vaccine has been approved, Health Canada has published a summary of the evidence that has been reviewed over the past two months.
Scott Moe, who leads the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, said: “Now we expect to receive those vaccines more quickly than was originally anticipated, and in greater quantities than we originally anticipated.”
Canada reported 5,981 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday and 90 deaths. In total, there have been 433,000 infections in the country and 12,931 fatalities.
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The biggest vaccination programme in the UK’s history has already gotten under way, with thousands of people receiving the first dose of the jab yesterday.
Patients require two doses – 21 days apart – in order to receive full protection against COVID-19.
On Wednesday, UK regulators warned that people who have a history of “significant” allergic reactions should not receive the vaccine.
It came after two NHS staff members who had the jab yesterday experienced “anaphylactoid reaction” symptoms.
England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, has said the jab will “substantially” reduce deaths – adding that there will be up to four different vaccines approved for use by the middle of next year.