Health Canada approval of Moderna vaccine not expected for weeks

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It looks increasingly unlikely regulators in Canada will authorize use of the Moderna Inc. (NYSE:MRNA) vaccine against COVID-19 before the end of 2020.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave the nod to the vaccine late last week, Health Canada said in a statement Monday (December 21) it cannot provide a “definitive timeline” for the completion of its own review.

Instead, the regulator said it expects its review to be completed in the “coming weeks.”

Health Canada has been reviewing the vaccine since October 12 through rolling submissions as data becomes available through the manufacturer.

It says there is still data that must be provided by Moderna before it can complete its review.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced last week the federal government had secured up to 168,000 doses of the vaccine to be delivered by month’s end, pending regulatory approval.

Once given the green light by Health Canada, those doses would be expected to arrive within 48 hours.

The competing Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech SE (Nasdaq:BNTX) has already been approved by Health Canada and distribution across the country began last week.

However, the Pfizer vaccine must be maintained at temperatures of -80C, making it more difficult to handle and transport than the Moderna vaccine, which requires -20C temperatures.

Because the Moderna doses are easier to transport, it’s seen as critical in ensuring remote regions in Canada have access to vaccinations.

The provinces have agreed to shift the per capita proportion of Moderna vaccines to the territories to make distribution easier for northern regions, meaning fewer doses of the easier-to-transport vaccine are destined for B.C.

“It then becomes a logistical issue as well,” Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, said last week during a media briefing in Ottawa.

“Because certainly in some provinces that have quote ‘northern communities,’ you can see that at the end of the day, for those communities affected, that there's really not much in difference in terms of their reality on the ground as opposed to quote ‘a southern community’ in a territory [that] might be separated by a few hundred kilometres or so.”

Just under 2,600 B.C. health-care workers have been vaccinated against COVID-19, as of December 18.

B.C.’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, is expected to offer updated numbers on COVID-19 cases at a media briefing Monday afternoon.

About 380,000 British Columbians are expected to be vaccinated by the end of March.