Statement from the Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health Implementing COVID-19 Vaccination in Canada
We recently marked the one-year anniversary of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year, people in Canada and across the world have mobilized to combat this virus and have collectively sacrificed a great deal.
The development of vaccines able to protect against severe COVID-19 outcomes has provided a new opportunity to protect ourselves, our families and communities, so all of us can return to a sense of normalcy. As Canada’s Chief Medical Officers of Health, we are committed to implementing a vaccine strategy that brings the greatest benefit to our populations. The goal of Canada’s COVID-19 immunization response is to enable as many people as possible to be immunized as quickly as possible against COVID-19 with a safe and effective vaccine, while ensuring that high-risk populations are prioritized. This strategy will contribute to the overall pandemic response goals of minimizing serious illness, death and societal disruption. It will be achieved by acting on evidence and public health principles, as well as through collaboration across our jurisdictions and with First Nations, Inuit and Metis partners.
With increasing supply of approved vaccines that are safe and effective against symptomatic COVID-19, we are now well-equipped to scale up vaccination and maximize protection of more individuals in Canada faster. We are doing this by first vaccinating populations at highest risk of severe health outcomes and COVID-19 exposure, and ensuring access to and uptake of COVID-19 vaccines for adults in communities that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because of social and economic inequities
As vaccination accelerates across the country, we continue to be guided by the expert advice of provincial immunization committees and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). In light of accumulating real-world effectiveness evidence, NACI recommends that in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply and the ongoing pandemic, jurisdictions should maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the timing of the second dose of COVID-19 vaccine dose up to four months after the first. Second doses should be offered as soon as possible after all eligible populations have been offered first doses, with priority given to those at highest risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 disease. Provinces and Territories may choose to shorten the time between the first and second dose of a two-dose series for COVID-19 vaccines in specific populations based on their local epidemiology, vaccine supply and vaccine delivery mechanisms.
As Chief Medical Officers of Health, we welcome and support NACI’s recommendations on vaccine dose intervals. Having as many eligible individuals as possible receive an effective first vaccine dose means that we can provide a very high level of protection to more people quickly, saving lives and reducing illness. This critical first dose will lead to reduced transmission in the community and protect those who do not develop a strong response individually. Once this is achieved, specific populations may be prioritized to receive their second dose as soon as possible. Receiving a second vaccine dose as soon as supplies allow, within the recommended interval, remains essential to achieve optimal protection from the two-dose vaccines. As we follow the evolving evidence, local epidemiology and expected vaccine supply, we will continue to reassess how to maximize the use of vaccines in our populations.
The current and upcoming increases in vaccine supply along with the extended dose interval, will support the rapid expansion of vaccination across Canada. We are well positioned to have enough vaccines for everyone by September.
Real-world evidence on COVID-19 vaccine development, effectiveness and safety is increasing rapidly both globally and in Canada. We will continue to rigorously evaluate any vaccine safety signals relative to risks we see everyday from COVID-19, and will take decisive action as appropriate.
We are learning more every day with the rapid pace of new science, but there is a lot we do not yet know: if vaccinated individuals can carry and spread the virus to others without knowing it, how long vaccines protect us for, if current vaccines work against all variants of concern, and when children can get vaccinated. Evidence will continue to guide our approaches to protect all those in Canada against COVID-19 and we will keep you informed as we learn more.
As we accelerate vaccination in Canada, we understand that everyone is looking forward to returning to a sense of normalcy. We will be able to do this gradually based on local and regional COVID-19 activity, but we need to be careful. COVID-19 variants of concern are causing a rapid resurgence in Canada and threatening the sacrifices we have made to prevent and control COVID-19. We cannot let our individual and collective guards down until there is sufficient population protection from vaccination. This means that for now, everyone needs to continue with public health measures that we know are effective, regardless of whether you have received one or two doses of vaccine or are not yet vaccinated.
As vaccination rolls out across Canada, it provides us with the opportunity to consider how best we can adapt public health measures, and gradually lift the most restrictive ones. As Chief Medical Officers of Health, we are committed to reviewing the evidence to inform when and how it is safe to relax these measures. We will continue to work together to provide clear and evidence-informed advice as the science and situation evolves, to keep everyone in Canada safe and healthy.
The Council of Chief Medical Officers of Health includes the Chief Medical Officer of Health from each provincial and territorial jurisdiction, Canada's Chief Public Health Officer, the Chief Medical Advisor of Health Canada, the Chief Medical Officer of Public Health of Indigenous Services Canada, the Chief Medical Officer from the First Nations Health Authority, and ex-officio members from other federal government departments.
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