A federal panel has recommended that provinces offer the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to adults ages 30 and up – but only to individuals who do not want to wait for an mRNA vaccine.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization made the recommendation Monday (May 3). The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-shot viral vector vaccine that has seen concerns over blood clotting, similar to the AstraZeneca vaccine.
While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been utilized in Canada, it was approved on March 5. In the U.S., there have been 17 cases of vaccine induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VIIT) reported among eight million doses given.
Canada has pre-purchased 10 million doses of the single-shot vaccine, with options to buy another 28 million.
Dr. Shelley Deeks, vice-chair of NACI, said that each person will have to weigh the benefit of getting the Johnson & Johnson shot versus an mRNA vaccine based on COVID cases in their area as well as their personal risk of contracting the virus while they wait for an mRNA vaccine. The two mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, have an effectiveness of more than 90 per cent after two doses, while Johnson & Johnson has an effectiveness of about 66 per cent, based on clinical trials.
“What we’re saying — and what we’ve been saying all along — is that mRNA vaccines are the preferred vaccines,” Deeks said, noting that the concerns over Johnson & Johnson vaccines, and other viral vector vaccine AstraZeneca, are not over their lower efficacy (mid-60s) but rather rare blood clots. The risk of VIIT is both “very rare” and “very serious,” Deeks added.
“Individuals need to have an informed choice to be vaccinated with the first vaccine that’s available or to wait for an mRNA vaccine.”
However, Deeks noted that anyone who has already received a viral vector vaccine and not seen side effects within three weeks of getting the shot is safe. NACI is expected to come out with a recommendation about mixing viral vector and mRNA vaccines in the coming days.
This is a lukewarm recommendation for Johnson & Johnson's #COVID19 vaccine. If you don't want to wait for Pfizer/Moderna + you're aware of VIIT risks, then you can get it. Goes against common public health advice that the best vaccine is the one offered to you. @BlackPressMedia pic.twitter.com/nFGPbiz8LU
— Kat Slepian (@katslepian) May 3, 2021
Barring any production issues, the feds have said that all adults in Canada are on track to get their first dose of one of the mRNA vaccine by July. In B.C., health officials believe they can get a first dose to all adults by mid-June.
Recommendations given by NACI are not binding, but rather offered as guidance to the provinces.