Amid surge in COVID cases, Health Canada is reviewing three new vaccines | CBC News

With early indications that the number of COVID-19 cases will increase in the coming weeks, Health Canada is actively evaluating three new vaccines that specifically target an omicron subvariant of the virus.

The department told CBC News Monday that new mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, as well as a non-mRNA product from Novavax, are part of a month-long review process and could begin shipments in the fall.

This schedule is similar to what is planned south of the border. The US is about to release an updated COVID booster end of September As soon as the supervisory authorities there approve the new recordings.

These new vaccines are designed for the XBB.1.5 Omicron subvariant, which is currently in widespread use.

When asked how many doses of these products the country is expected to receive, a Health Canada spokesman declined to give an exact figure, but said in a media statement that there would be “adequate supply” of the new formulation of mRNA vaccines.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO, said the company's vaccines are ready to go as soon as regulators approve their use.

Novavax's protein-based XBB-COVID vaccine candidate will not be available until later this year, according to Health Canada.

This vaccine is an option for people who are “unwilling or unable to receive an mRNA vaccine,” the department said.

While the number of reported COVID-19 cases remains significantly lower than in the past, some agencies, notably Public Health Ontario (PHO), have reported an increase in positive test results.

Of the approximately 12,700 tests conducted in the province between August 13 and 19, 9.9 percent came back positive – a sharp increase from the 5.2 percent positivity rate seen in early July.

“Percent positivity remained stable from late April 2023 to late May, trended down through late June, and showed an overall upward trend, with the trend accelerating in recent weeks,” PHO said an update on respiratory viruses released on Friday.

WATCH: Wait for updated COVID-19 booster this fall, experts suggest

Wait for updated COVID-19 booster this fall, experts suggest

Despite an expected fall wave of COVID-19, health experts recommend most people wait for the next, updated vaccine — which is several weeks away — to get a booster shot that offers the greatest possible protection.

ontario sewage signals also suggest that the number of COVID-19 infections is rising steadily — albeit not at the high levels reported earlier in the year.

The number of COVID-related hospital admissions in Ontario has been stable for months despite a rise in test positivity.

The most commonly reported strain of COVID-19 in Ontario is currently EG.5.1, followed by EG.5.1.1 and XBB.1.16, PHO said.

The new formulation of the vaccines could help with these subvariants, which are strains of the virus descended from the original omicron.

Some Canadians remain opposed to taking COVID-19 vaccines. Health Canada wanted to reassure these people that the products go through an “independent process” that is “based on scientific rigor and medical evidence.”

A nurse monitors the number and type of COVID-19 booster shots
A nurse monitors the number and type of COVID-19 booster shots given at a vaccination station adjacent to Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., in November 2022. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP Photo)

The federal government is working with provinces and territories on “needs planning and forecasting” to determine how many vaccines will be made available for the fall 2023 vaccination campaign, the spokesman said.

While it's up to Ottawa to buy the vaccines, the lower levels of government are ultimately responsible for designing and implementing immunization programs.

With the review of these products already in full swing, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is busy recommend that all people previously vaccinated against COVID-19 prepare to receive a dose of the new formulation when it becomes available.

NACI, an independent body made up of volunteer vaccine experts, said an eligible person should receive a vaccination if it's been at least six months since a previous COVID-19 vaccine dose or infection.

The committee said vaccination was “particularly important” for people who are at increased risk of infection, such as people aged 65 or older, residents of long-term care homes, pregnant women, First Nations, Metis and Inuit and other racialized groups .

The new formulations examined aim to combat the “newer, immune-vasive” variants in circulation. NACI said.

People with an updated vaccination will benefit “from a better immune response” against these variants compared to the current vaccine crop, the committee said.

“A booster dose starting in fall 2023 is expected to increase protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection and symptomatic and severe COVID-19 disease that have subsided since the last booster shot or SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said NACI made its recommendation.

“Enhanced protection will help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on the healthcare system while other respiratory viruses, including influenza and RSV, circulate during the fall and winter of the 2023-2024 respiratory virus season.”

The committee said that “hybrid immunity” – having a prior infection together with a vaccination – offered greater protection against infection and serious illness than either a vaccination or a prior infection alone.

“For this reason, an additional dose of vaccination starting this fall is particularly important for those who were previously uninfected and have vaccine protection alone,” the panel said.

Relatively few COVID-19 vaccinations were administered in Canada this year.

Federal data on vaccination is also out of date, as acceptance of these products has declined significantly.

As of June 18, 2023, approximately 6 percent of the population had had a COVID-19 vaccination in the past six months.

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