We have had some good news this week when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine has been approved by Health Canada and it appears that with four different COVID-19 vaccines now approved for use in this country, COVID needles in people’s arms will finally begin to speed up.
We are still behind the eight ball of course, and most of the vaccines we badly need are not actually here yet. But progress has been made and Canadians are beginning to feel more comfortable with projected timelines for getting vaccinated and for getting this pandemic behind us. National polls reflect this, as respondents are easing up on their anger at the Trudeau Government.
But in spite of an atmosphere of relief, there is one question, and I believe an important one, that must be asked and answered, and that is whether the federal government’s poor record, compared to most other jurisdictions, of actually obtaining COVID-19 vaccines will potentially affect the quality of protection Canadians will receive. Here is why I say that.
Pfizer, whose COVID-19 vaccine is the one that is still primarily injected in Canada, recommended that individuals receive two shots about 21 days apart. The Moderna vaccine injections, also used in Canada, are recommended 28 days apart. Subsequent studies have shown that it may be safe to increase the period between shots if necessary, but there has been no hard evidence about how long this period should safely be, and to the best of my knowledge the pharmaceutical firms are standing behind their recommendations.
In an effort to get as many people inoculated with COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible, the Trudeau Government is allowing provinces to accept a recommendation from its National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to allow a delay of up to four months between shots of COVID-19 vaccines that require two injections. According to the Toronto Star, Ontario has recently announced that they will do that.
Two important things to remember here. First, NACI is an advisory committee appointed by the Trudeau Government. It is not Health Canada. Second, its initial recommendation was to allow this delay between injections “when supplies are limited”.
The reason for the recommendation from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization is their belief, supported by many in the scientific community, that the first priority must be to boost the number of Canadians being vaccinated as quickly as possible in order to provide them with at least a degree of immunity. This, of course, makes sense because Canada is well behind other countries when it comes to actually acquiring COVID-19 vaccines. But the hard question must be asked: why is it necessary to take this chance in Canada, when it has not been needed anywhere else in the world?
Dr. Brad Wouters is executive vice-president of science and research at the University Health Network, one of the most prestigious hospital complexes in Canada. He is not a physician. He is an engineer, a researcher, and a scientist. He has this to say about waiting up to four months for a second COVID-19 injection: “This decision is not based on evidence. No one in the world has been waiting four months for a second dose.”
It has also been noted that there has been no four- month data released by anyone for peer review, a common practise when making scientific findings.
There has been a significant degree of concern raised about extending vaccination intervals beyond those recommended by the vaccine manufacturers. One commentator recently suggested that Canada would be launching a nationwide experiment no other country has attempted.
Some Canadians will not have to wait for a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine because the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which will be available in Canada does not require one. But many others will, and with them, if time between injections is extended, especially up to four months, we will simply be rolling the dice. Many Canadians will be treated as guinea pigs.
As polling numbers are improving, rumours that Justin Trudeau may force a spring election are heating up again. He may do so, or he may wait for the fall, still only two years from the last election. And when he does, my guess is that Canadians, being quick to forgive and forget and tired of being cranky, will give him another mandate. Even if it is again a minority, he can look to the NDP to continue to prop him up.
But there is one thing Canadians should not forget. That is that some of their fellow citizens will be at risk because the Trudeau Government failed to get COVID-19 vaccines here as quickly and efficiently as the vast majority of other countries in the Western world.
And now they want to catch up. Indeed, they need to catch up. But in order to do that they will now take chances with timelines that have not yet been scientifically authenticated and are contrary to recommendations from vaccine manufacturers and that no other country in the world has attempted. Consequently, they are taking chances with other people’s lives. There was no need for that.
And for that, surely, they should be held accountable.
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