There’s no ‘best’ vaccine, expert says as Canada OKs AstraZeneca shots

Vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford have now been approved in Canada.  While Canadians may not get a choice about which COVID-19 vaccine to take, all three offer protection against severe illness, according to experts.

“All of these vaccines are good,” Dr. Bradly Wouters, executive vice-president of science and research at the University Health Network told Global News Friday.

Read more: What are the differences between Canada’s approved COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s what we know

Available data shows all these three vaccines have the “ability to impact hospitalization” and offer “protection against severe illness,” he said.

Which vaccine is the best?

There’s no “best vaccine” option.

Whichever vaccine is available first, “it’s going to protect you,” Wouters said.

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Parts of the world are already facing which-is-best challenges. Astrazeneca’s vaccine for instance, was cleared for use in Britain and Europe after data suggested that it was about 70 per cent effective.

Italy’s government recently decided to reserve Pfizer and Moderna shots for the elderly and designate the Astrazeneca vaccine for younger, at-risk workers, sparking protests.

“Right now, it’s not vaccine against vaccine, it’s vaccine against virus,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, recently told The Associated Press.

Wouters reiterated a similar notion.

“In a pandemic, you need fast results,” he noted and the “priority is to ensure everyone gets vaccinated” and not “debate over which vaccine is better.”

“Each trial involves different people in different places,” he said, and while many may be making comparisons between vaccines from the results of different Phase 3 trials, “such comparisons are misleading,” he said.

After Pfizer and Moderna, AstraZeneca is the third shot officially authorized in the country.

Health Canada official explains how AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine works

Health Canada official explains how AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine works

The two doses of the Pfizer and Moderna shots were found to be about 95 per cent effective against the virus as compared to the AstraZeneca shots that stand at 62 per cent in preventing symptomatic cases.

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However, Wouters said they will all work “as effectively as possible as long as combined with mask-wearing, handwashing and social distancing.”

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“We must continue to follow public health guidelines, being cautious until positive cases, hospitalizations and deaths are significantly reduced nationwide,” he said.

Following Canada’s approval of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine Friday, Procurement Minister Anita Anand cautioned against deliberation over “the sort of good or bad” vaccines.

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“If there is a vaccine and it’s been authorized by Health Canada, it means that it’s met standards,” Anand said during a press conference Friday.

AstraZeneca shots may not seem equal to its opponents at first glance but “these vaccines do have a use,” she said.

“We have real-world evidence from Scotland and the U.K. for people that have been dosed that have been over 80, and that has shown a significant drop in hospitalizations, to the tune of 84 per cent,” she said.

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“The idea is to have a suite of vaccines that are available. I think Canada is hungry for vaccines, we’re putting more on the buffet table to be used.”

Standards of efficacy

Speaking of the “standards of effectiveness,” Anand said vaccines “should meet at least 50 per cent.”

“If we compare that to the influenza viruses that we authorize every year, if you look back, for example, just to last year, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine against the most common strain was about 64 per cent, across to the next common strain was about 54 per cent,” she said.

As more information becomes available from real-world use, “the efficacy” of the AstraZeneca vaccine might prove to “be much higher,” Anand added.

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