It is the third COVID-19 vaccine given the green light by Canada, following those from Pfizer and Moderna.
Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in people 18 and over, expressing confidence it would work for the elderly even though some countries, including France, have authorized it only for use in people under 65, saying there is not enough evidence it works in older adults.
With trials showing about 62% efficacy, the vaccine appears to offer less protection than those already authorized, but experts have said any vaccine with an efficacy rate of over 50% could help stop the outbreak
“It's a good option,” said Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada’s chief medical adviser.
Health authorities in Germany and other countries have raised concerns that AstraZeneca didn’t test the vaccine in enough older people to prove it works for them, and indicated they would not recommend it for people over 65. Belgium has authorized it only for people 55 and under
Health Canada said its decision was based on pooled analyses from four ongoing clinical studies trials as well as data in countries where it has been approved.
“Based on the totality of the information, the benefit-risk profile of AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine is positive for the proposed indication in adults 18 years and over," Health Canada said in information posted online.
“We’re starting to get real world evidence. There is evidence that in older age group it would be effective,” Sharma said.
Canada has now ordered 22 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot, which was co-developed by researchers at the University of Oxford. It will also receive up to 1.9 million doses through the global vaccine-sharing initiative known as COVAX by the end of June.
Trudeau said 2 million of those doses will come from the Serum Institute of India, which Sharma said uses the same recipe but a slightly different method and was also approved.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has already been authorized in more than 50 countries. It is cheaper and easier to handle than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which needs deep-cold storage that is not widespread in many developing nations. Both vaccines require two shots per person, given weeks apart.
Canada and many European countries have been struggling to vaccinate people as quickly as Britain, Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere
Canada does not have domestic production and Trudeau’s government has been accused of not obtaining vaccines fast enough even while also being criticized for ordering enough doses overall to supply its population 10 times over.