The target date for herd immunity could be shifting forward thanks to a change in vaccine guidelines and a potential fourth vaccine on the way.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has remained steadfast that all Canadians who want a COVID-19 vaccine will be able to get one by the fall.
But with extended intervals between the first and second doses, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) projects 80 per cent of Canadians over the age of 16 could receive a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shot by the end of June.
On Wednesday, Trudeau acknowledged changes in public health guidance regarding the timing of second doses would likely speed up the vaccine rollout and move up the target.
Additionally, Trudeau says the timeline set by the federal government didn’t factor in the newly-approved AstraZeneca shot, or the Johnson & Johnson shot that could be approved in the coming weeks.
NACI said Wednesday that provinces can now wait up to four months before giving the second doses of COVID-19 vaccines. That is up from the three week maximum first suggested when vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna were first approved.
The federal body is recommending that “in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply” the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose should be maximized.
What this means for Ontario’s vaccine rollout remains unclear, but sources suggest the Ford government could provide a list of who will get vaccinated sooner by the end of the week.
“This will allow Ontario to rapidly accelerate its vaccine rollout and get as many vaccines into arms as quickly as possible and, in doing so, provide more protection to more people,” said a spokesperson from Ontario’s minister of health.
“I suspect that the government simply hasn’t made up its mind,” said epidemiologist Colin Furness to CityNews. “That’s too bad because we could have been thinking about this sooner.”
Timeline could move up even more if the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine gets approved.
Health Canada officials say the decision on the Johnson & Johnson shot could come in the next few weeks after the U.S. and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the shot.
All three currently approved vaccines are 100 per cent effective against death and hospitalization as a result of COVID-19, but clinical trials suggested mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) were more effective at preventing COVID-19 infections. NACI is not recommending the AstraZeneca shot for residents over 65.
Solicitor General Sylvia Jones was asked who in Ontario will receive the new AstraZeneca vaccine that has a shelf life of less than a month. Jones said she’s not ready to release the details yet, but said it will go to those aged 60 to 64, and suggested it would be pharmacists doling it out.
With files from the Canadian Press