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AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and the ‘seniors’ question – Global News



Health Canada is expected to make a decision on the AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine any day with an extra 1.1 million doses to be delivered by the end of March pending that approval. Several European nations are already discouraging its use among seniors, citing a lack of data.

Read more:
Canada could get 1.1M more vaccine doses by March through COVAX sharing program

On Friday, British regulators said they had received extra trial data from AstraZeneca that supports their view that the COVID-19 vaccine is effective in the elderly.

When asked about the efficacy in older adults the day before, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said that Health Canada will review the data as it becomes available.

Earlier this week, AstraZeneca reported that a primary analysis of its Phase 3 trials showed an overall efficacy rate of 76 per cent after the first dose and 82 per cent after the second.

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The company said that its adenoviral vector vaccine may also reduce transmission of the virus.

The two vaccines currently approved in Canada, the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccines, both have efficacy rates around 95 per cent.

“We’ve been spoiled, our expectations have been set at that really, really impossibly high level and everything else is a disappointment,” said Dr. Alan Bernstein, CEO of CIFAR and member of the federal COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force.

“But, you know, 75 per cent is pretty good in real life.”

Read more:
Will Canadians get to choose which COVID-19 vaccine they get?

AstraZeneca’s vaccine was authorized for emergency use in the U.K. at the end of December, and in Argentina, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico and Morocco early this year, before being approved for all adults by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) at the end of January.

France, Sweden, Germany, Italy, and Poland have all issued recommendations stating the vaccine should be prioritized for adults under the age of 65, 60 — or even 55 in the case of Italy — according to Politico Europe and France 24.

In its decision, the EMA said most of the participants in AstraZeneca’s trials were between 18 and 55 and it needed more results in older participants “to provide a figure for how well the vaccine will work in this group” but it went on to say that “protection is expected.”

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Read more:
Feds asked vaccine makers to produce COVID-19 shots in Canada. All said no

Director of geriatrics at Sinai Health System in Toronto, Dr. Samir Sinha, said his view is that Canadians should “get the vaccine that you can get your hands on as soon as possible because as soon as most of us are vaccinated, the more community protection we have and the better off we’re all going to be.”

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Bernstein echoed those sentiments, adding “they all look very effective.”

He also explained that efficacy is just one factor — though a very important one — in deciding what makes a good vaccine.

Click to play video 'The science of vaccines'

The science of vaccines

The science of vaccines – Jan 16, 2020

What is vaccine effectiveness?

Vaccine effectiveness and vaccine efficacy are actually slightly different, as explained by Bernstein.

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Efficacy refers to the results from a controlled trial whereas effectiveness reflects how it performs in the “real world,” though both terms tend to be used interchangeably outside of academic settings.

“The reason it’s distinguished from a trial is trials are not in a sense ‘real-life’ in that the companies will choose volunteers that are healthy beforehand or try to choose volunteers that are healthy beforehand,” he explained.

He said it’s not that companies are “fudging the results” but that they don’t want results to be “confounded by people who are already very ill.”

So, how is efficacy determined?

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In Phase 3 of a vaccine trial, scientists compare the results from a group of people who’ve received the vaccine to a group of people who have received a placebo.

“If 100 people got infected in the non-vaccinated group, we then looked over to the vaccinated group. We say, ‘OK, well, if all these people were circulating in the same community, there should be at least 100 people who could have gotten infected in the vaccinated group,’” Sinha explained.

“And when we find out that only five actually got infected, it tells us then that that vaccine is 95 per cent effective.”

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Sinha adds that 95 per cent effectiveness, for example, doesn’t mean that 95 people out of 100 people are protected, but rather that “it’s up to 95 per cent effective in every one of us who gets that vaccine. We just don’t know who might be the person, for example, who doesn’t have that level of effectiveness.”

“If we give you the vaccine, can your body respond to that vaccine to give you the protection that you need to fight off COVID?”

What impacts vaccine effectiveness?

The same weakened immune system that makes the elderly more susceptible to the virus is also what makes them less likely to have a robust response to vaccines.

“We’re all different genetically, which means we have different responses genetically in our immune system to insults like viruses. And some people overreact, some people underreact, and some people are in the sweet spot of reacting just right,” Bernstein explained.

“It’s possible that different ethnic groups, that people of colour, will respond differently to the virus or to the vaccine or both. And that has not been studied that carefully actually, yet.”

While everyone’s immune system is a little bit different, Sinha says typically young and healthy people have a “good, robust immune system.” Age or illness, for example, can weaken the immune system.

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Coronavirus: What you need to know about mRNA vaccines

The fact that the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines appear to be as effective in older people as in younger people actually surprised Sinha.

“It must be this mRNA technology that actually helps to boost the immune systems of older people in such a way that they get the same level of protection as younger people,” he suggested.

“What we might see over time is other more traditional vaccine technologies, they may not be able to boost the immune system of older people or other more immunocompromised people to the same level.”

It’s possible, Sinha says, that we may get to a point where health care professionals would select a vaccine based on how well a particular person is likely to respond to it.

“And right now, for my older patients, I would highly recommend they get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccination because they seem to be 95 per cent effective.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: U.K. trial to test combining Pfizer, AstraZeneca vaccines in 2-shot regimen'

Coronavirus: U.K. trial to test combining Pfizer, AstraZeneca vaccines in 2-shot regimen

Coronavirus: U.K. trial to test combining Pfizer, AstraZeneca vaccines in 2-shot regimen

What else makes a good vaccine?

Outside of efficacy in preventing illness, Bernstein says the two other properties that matter are how long protection lasts and what impact the vaccine has on transmission.

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“So let’s say you have two vaccines, one’s 70 and one’s 90 per cent effective in the trials, but the one that’s 70 per cent lasts for five years, the one that’s 90 only lasts for six months,” he said as a hypothetical example.

“Which is a better vaccine?”

Sinha says that vaccines approved so far have been shown to significantly protect people from getting sick and dying but more data is needed to determine “if it can actually prevent your ability to transmit the virus to another person.”

Data released earlier this week from AstraZeneca showed that the viral load “in the body of people who were vaccinated is lower than in the placebo group,” which Bernstein says would be “consistent but not proof that it may be transmission is lower from person to person.”

Read more:
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In addition to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, Bernstein expects that the AstraZeneca, Novavax, and Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccines will be approved in Canada.

“And that’s not meant to influence Health Canada because I can’t. But that’s my own view, looking at the data — and the regulators will see more data than we have seen, than I have seen. They’ll see every little scrap of data,” he explained.

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“There may be things there that are, you know, deal-killers. But I think based on what we know and what the companies have released, I would say that all three will be approved.”

— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun and Reuters.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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COVID-19 in Ottawa: Fast Facts for Feb. 28, 2021 – CTV News Ottawa



Good morning. Here is the latest news on COVID-19 and its impact on Ottawa.

Fast Facts:

  • Front-line workers wait in long, snowy line for COVID-19 vaccine following a “minor booking issue” in Ottawa on Saturday
  • Ottawa’s top doctor addresses concerns about the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, saying “62 per cent effectiveness is still better than zero”
  • Ottawa Public Health reports 62 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday
  • St-Albert Cheese Cooperative re-opens factory store after COVID-19 outbreak

COVID-19 by the numbers in Ottawa (Ottawa Public Health data):

  • New COVID-19 cases: 62 new cases on Saturday
  • Total COVID-19 cases: 14,650
  • COVID-19 cases per 100,000 (previous seven days): 35
  • Positivity rate in Ottawa: 2.0 per cent (Feb. 19 to Feb. 25)
  • Reproduction Number: 0.98 (seven day average)


Who should get a test?

Ottawa Public Health says there are five reasons to seek testing for COVID-19:

  • You are showing COVID-19 symptoms. OR
  • You have been exposed to a confirmed case of the virus, as informed by Ottawa Public Health or exposure notification through the COVID Alert app. OR
  • You are a resident or work in a setting that has a COVID-19 outbreak, as identified and informed by Ottawa Public Health. OR
  • You are eligible for testing as part of a targeted testing initiative directed by the Ministry of Health or the Ministry of Long-Term Care. OR
  • You have traveled to the U.K., or have come into contact with someone who recently traveled to the U.K., please go get tested immediately (even if you have no symptoms).

Where to get tested for COVID-19 in Ottawa:

There are several sites for COVID-19 testing in Ottawa. To book an appointment, visit

  • The Brewer Ottawa Hospital/CHEO Assessment Centre: Open Monday to Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Friday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • COVID-19 Drive-thru assessment centre at National Arts Centre: Open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • The Moodie Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
  • The Heron Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • The Ray Friel Care and Testing Centre: Open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

COVID-19 screening tool:

The COVID-19 screening tool for students heading back to in-person classes can be found here.


Classic Symptoms: fever, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath

Other symptoms: sore throat, difficulty swallowing, new loss of taste or smell, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, pneumonia, new or unexplained runny nose or nasal congestion

Less common symptoms: unexplained fatigue, muscle aches, headache, delirium, chills, red/inflamed eyes, croup

The Ottawa Hospital blames a “minor booking issue” for the long line outside the COVID-19 vaccination centre at the Civic campus.

Dozens of people lined up in a snowstorm on Saturday to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. The Ottawa Hospital says people in line were hospital and community-based health care workers, staff and essential caregivers from long-term care homes, and staff from high-risk retirement homes.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, the Ottawa Hospital said the lineup was the result of a booking error.

“The Ottawa Hospital’s vaccine clinic experienced a minor booking issue (Saturday) morning which caused the line up to be longer than usual,” the Ottawa Hospital said. “Appointments are continuing as scheduled.”

Line for vaccines Ottawa Feb 27

Ottawa’s top doctor is addressing some concerns about COVID-19 vaccine efficacy, just days after Health Canada approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

“62 per cent effectiveness is still better than zero per cent,” said Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health during an interview on CTV News at Six on Saturday.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has already faced questions about its efficacy. Health Canada said receiving two doses of the vaccine is between 59 and 62 per cent effective. Pfizer-BioNTech has said its vaccine is 94.5 per cent effective after two doses.

Dr. Etches says the effectiveness compares to the seasonal flu shot.

“We know that compares to other vaccines we have, like the annual influenza vaccine is sometimes only around that level of effectiveness. So you know, the more protection that we can add in to the population and build immunity at this point, the better.”


Sixty-two more people tested positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa on Saturday.

Ottawa Public Health reported no new deaths linked to the virus.

Since the first case of COVID-19 in Ottawa on March 11, 2020, there have been 14,650 laboratory-confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 439 deaths.

The St-Albert Cheese Co-op plans to resume production in a limited capacity on Monday after a COVID-19 outbreak.

The factory east of Ottawa temporarily closed after three employees tested positive for COVID-19 this week.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit tested all employees, and St-Albert Cheese Co-op director general Eric Lafontaine says the early signs are positive.

“Right now we’re still waiting the final result of the health unit, but so far what we got in is mostly 90 per cent, and 90 per cent is negative so that’s a really good sign, so we know it didn’t spread across. That’s the most important thing.”

The factory store at the St-Albert Cheese Co-op reopened on Saturday.

St-Albert Cheese Co-op

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What you need to know about COVID-19 in Ottawa on Sunday, Feb. 28 –



Recent developments

  • Ottawa Public Health recorded 62 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday. 
  • The Renfrew health unit is considering targeted restrictions after cases rise in two communities.
  • Parents with Ottawa’s largest school board will soon have to choose between virtual and in-person learning for the fall.

What’s the latest?

The acting head of the Renfrew County and District Health Unit says they’re considering targeted restrictions as COVID-19 cases have shot up in a pair of communities just west of Ottawa.

Dr. Robert Cushman says it’s possible tighter rules could be implemented in the town of Arnprior, Ont., and the township of McNab/Braeside, Ont., after 15 cases were confirmed this past week.

In Ottawa, meanwhile, another 62 cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Saturday. No deaths were reported.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board says parents will have to make a decision by mid-March about whether their children will attend virtual or in-person learning come September.

If the pandemic’s left you feeling disconnected from loved ones, check your mailbox this week. Canada Post will be sending out 13.5 million postage-paid postcards to help Canadians stay in touch with the people who matter to them.

How many cases are there?

As of Saturday, 14,650 Ottawa residents have tested positive for COVID-19. There are currently 488 known active cases and 13,723 resolved cases. Public health officials have attributed 439 deaths to COVID-19. 

Public health officials have reported more than 26,000 COVID-19 cases across eastern Ontario and western Quebec, including more than 24,400 resolved cases.

Elsewhere in eastern Ontario, 130 people have died of COVID-19, and 160 people have died in western Quebec. 

Akwesasne has had more than 230 residents test positive on the Canadian side of the border and seven deaths. Kitigan Zibi has had 21 confirmed cases and Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory has had five, with one death.

CBC Ottawa is profiling those who’ve died of COVID-19. If you’d like to share your loved one’s story, please get in touch.

What can I do?

Restaurants, gyms, personal care services, theatres and non-essential businesses are open across eastern Ontario. Most sports can also resume.

Social gatherings can have up to 10 people indoors or 25 people outdoors. Organized events can be larger.

People are asked to only have close contact with people they live with, be masked and distanced for all other in-person contact and only travel for essential reasons, especially between differently coloured zones.

Both Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the EOHU are orange under the province’s colour-coded pandemic scale.

They have more restrictions than the rest of the region, which is in green, the lowest level. Local health units can also set their own rules.

A woman in a mask walks through downtown Arnprior, Ont., on Feb. 27, 2021. The Renfrew County and District Health Unit says tighter pandemic rules could be put in place there as there’s been a recent rise in COVID-19 cases. (Remi Authier/Radio-Canada)

Western Quebec’s gyms and restaurants can open, joining non-essential businesses.

That area’s new curfew hours are 9:30 p.m. until 5 a.m.

Like in Ontario, people are asked not to see anyone they don’t live with in person and travel from one region of Quebec to another is discouraged. 

Outdoor gatherings of up to eight people are now allowed.

Distancing and isolating

The novel coronavirus primarily spreads through droplets when an infected person speaks, coughs, sneezes, or breathes onto someone or something. These droplets can hang in the air.

People can be contagious without symptoms, even after getting a vaccine. New coronavirus variants can be more contagious.

This means it is important to take precautions now and in the months to come like staying home while symptomatic — and getting help with costs if needed — keeping hands and frequently touched surfaces clean and maintaining distance from anyone you don’t live with, even with a mask on.

Masks, preferably ones that fit snugly and have three layers, are mandatory in indoor public settings in Ontario and Quebec.

OPH says residents should also wear masks outside their homes whenever possible.

Health Canada recommends older adults and people with underlying medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems stay home as much as possible and get help with errands.

Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate, as should those who’ve been ordered to do so by their public health unit. The length varies in Quebec and Ontario; the latter recently updated its rules, including in schools.

People have to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter Canada by land without a fine and have to pay for their stay in a quarantine hotel if entering by air.

Symptoms and vaccines

COVID-19 can range from a cold-like illness to a severe lung infection, with common symptoms including fever, a cough, vomiting and loss of taste or smell. Children can develop a rash.

If you have severe symptoms, call 911.

Mental health can also be affected by the pandemic, and resources are available to help.

Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine supply has stabilized.

About 79,800 doses have been given out since mid-December, including about 48,300 doses in Ottawa and 13,300 in western Quebec.

Ontario’s first doses have generally been going to care home residents and health-care workers.

The province’s campaign will expand to priority groups such as people over age 80 starting in mid-March, moving to younger age groups through July, and essential workers in May

Ontarians who are eligible can book appointments online or over the phone starting March 15. Vaccines are expected to be widely available in August.

Local health units have some flexibility in the larger framework, however, so check with them for specifics.

For example, Ottawa has chosen to offer shots to people over age 80 in certain areas of the city and adults getting home care for chronic conditions starting this Friday, March 5.

More details on those logistics are expected Monday.

That city believes it can have nearly 700,000 residents vaccinated by August, hitting a groove of nearly 11,000 doses a day by early summer.

Many eastern Ontario vaccine clinic locations are in the same communities as test sites and none are open yet for the general public.

Quebec is giving a single dose to as many people as possible, starting with people in care homes and health-care workers.

It moves to older adults outside care homes starting March 10 in western Quebec’s six clinics, then essential workers and finally the general public.

People who qualify can make an appointment online or over the phone.

Quebecers should get their second dose within 90 days.

Where to get tested

In eastern Ontario:

Anyone seeking a test should book an appointment.

Ontario recommends only getting tested if you have symptoms, if you’ve been told to by your health unit or the province, or if you fit certain other criteria.

People without symptoms but who are part of the province’s targeted testing strategy can make an appointment at select pharmacies. Travellers who need a test have very few local options to pay for one.

Ottawa has ten regular test sites, with mobile sites wherever demand is particularly high.

People can arrange a test in Picton over the phone or in Bancroft, Belleville and Trenton, where online booking is preferred.

The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark health unit has permanent sites in Almonte, Brockville, Kemptville and Smiths Falls and a mobile clinic.

Kingston’s main test site is at the Beechgrove Complex, another is in Napanee.

Renfrew County test clinic locations are posted weekly. Residents can also call their family doctor or 1-844-727-6404 with health questions.

The Eastern Ontario Health Unit has sites in Alexandria, Casselman, Cornwall, Hawkesbury, Rockland and Winchester.

In western Quebec:

Tests are strongly recommended for people with symptoms and their contacts.

Outaouais residents can make an appointment in Gatineau at 135 blvd. Saint-Raymond or 617 ave. Buckingham. They can check the wait time for the Saint-Raymond site.

There are recurring clinics by appointment in communities such as Maniwaki and Petite-Nation.

Call 1-877-644-4545 with questions, including if walk-in testing is available nearby.

First Nations, Inuit and Métis:

Akwesasne has a COVID-19 test site by appointment only and a curfew of 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Anyone returning to the community on the Canadian side of the international border who’s been farther than 160 kilometres away — or visited Montreal — for non-essential reasons is asked to self-isolate for 14 days.

People in Pikwakanagan can book a COVID-19 test by calling 613-625-2259. Anyone in Tyendinaga who’s interested in a test can call 613-967-3603.

Inuit in Ottawa can call the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team at 613-740-0999 for service, including testing and now vaccines, in Inuktitut or English on weekdays.

For more information

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Experts caution against the temptation to comparison shop COVID-19 vaccines – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News



Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Published Saturday, February 27, 2021 3:01PM EST

Last Updated Saturday, February 27, 2021 3:13PM EST

TORONTO – While it’s tempting to compare various aspects of AstraZeneca-Oxford’s newly approved COVID-19 vaccine to others, several experts cautioned against focusing on data that is not comparable and the danger of underrating the product’s ability to curb hospitalizations and deaths.

Health Canada’s long-awaited announcement Friday that a third vaccine would soon be deployed came just as the provinces faced heightened scrutiny over regional immunization plans that vary by timeline, age eligibility and priority groups.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the boost to Canada’s pandemic arsenal would mean “more people vaccinated, and sooner,” and would be key to helping contain spread.

Nevertheless, Health Canada chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma acknowledged questions over how the public should evaluate trial results that show AstraZeneca has an efficacy of 62 per cent in preventing symptomatic cases. That’s compared to the 95 per cent efficacy of the country’s two other approved vaccines, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

But Sharma stressed that all three have been shown to prevent 100 per cent of hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19.

“Each vaccine has unique characteristics and Health Canada’s review has confirmed that the benefits of the viral vector-based vaccine, as with the other authorized vaccines, outweigh their potential risks,” Sharma said.

Several medical experts including Dr. Stephen Hwang say Canadians do not have the luxury to pick-and-choose as long as COVID-19 cases continue to rage in several hot spots and strain health-care systems.

With multiple COVID-19 projections warning of a variant-fuelled third wave without tighter suppression measures, any tool that can slow the pandemic should be embraced, he argued.

“It would be important for people to be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is first available in their community to them, rather than trying to hold out for a specific vaccine,” advised Hwang, who treats COVID-19 patients at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

Still, Toronto resident Maria Brum couldn’t help but question whether AstraZeneca was safe for her 79-year-old mother.

The vaccine was not tested on people over the age of 65. Health Canada, however, says real-world data from countries already using the product suggest it is safe and effective among older age groups, promising an update on efficacy in the age group as more data comes in.

“I personally would take that one out as an option for my mom,” said Brum, who is her mother’s main caregiver.

“Maybe I am wrong but, I don’t know, I don’t see that it’s more useful. I’d like to see one that has a higher percentage of (efficacy).”

As for herself, Brum said she has allergies that she believes may put her at greater risk of adverse reactions and so she is unsure whether she can take any vaccine.

But she’d like the option of choosing, if possible, even while acknowledging that limited supply could make that unlikely.

“As a Canadian, I would like to see us all have choices, regardless of age, gender, or ability,” says Brum.

“I’m going to wait where I can have more choices.”

Such hesitancy could pose public health challenges to Canada reaching the vaccination coverage needed to build protective immunity against COVID-19, said Hwang.

He noted that Germany has seen a reported preference among some for the vaccine made by Germany’s BioNTech with Pfizer, as well as a misconception that the AstraZeneca vaccine is inferior because of a lower efficacy rate.

Hwang says efficacy between vaccines cannot be compared because each involved completely different trials at different time periods, in different countries, with different volunteers of different age groups and varying trial design.

“Until we have direct comparison studies where we give people one vaccine versus another and directly compare, it’s very difficult to know for sure how it’s going to pan out,” he says.

Then there’s the fact Canada’s initial AstraZeneca doses will be made at the Serum Institute of India, which dubs its version CoviShield, while later packages will be produced at the drug giant’s own manufacturing facilities.

Hwang acknowledges that could invite further scrutiny but says the Pune, India-based biotech firm has a “strong track record of producing vaccines.”

Sharma also stressed the similarities between the two shots Friday.

“For all intents and purposes they’re the same vaccine,” said Sharma.

“There are some slight differences in terms of manufacturing and the places that they are manufactured are different. The analogy is a bit like the recipe – so the recipe for the vaccine is the same, but they’re manufactured in different kitchens.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 28, 2021.

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