Canada launches Vaccine Injury Support Program ahead of COVID-19 shots rollout

Dec 11 2020, 11:29 am

The federal government has launched a new program that will support Canadians who have serious adverse reactions to vaccines.

The Public Health Agency of Canada announced the pan-Canadian Vaccine Injury Support Program on Friday.

The program, which will be implemented in collaboration with provinces and territories, will apply to all vaccines approved by Health Canada.

“By getting vaccinated, we protect one another and our way of life. Vaccines are safe, effective, and one of the best ways to prevent serious illness like COVID-19,” the government said.

Canada’s health agency says that like any medication, there is the possibility that vaccines can cause side effects and reactions.

“Mild and harmless” side effects are common, they say and are the body’s natural response as it builds immunity to a disease.

However, serious adverse reactions are possible. While chances are extremely rare — less than one in a million, the government says — they have a duty to help should a severe reaction occur.

According to the release, the new Vaccine Injury Support Program will ensure that all Canadians have fair access to support in the rare event that they experience an adverse reaction to a vaccine.

The program builds on a model that has been in place in Québec for over 30 years and is similar to ones used in other G7 countries.

“Vaccines are only approved in Canada after [a] thorough and independent review of the scientific evidence,” the government notes.

“They are also closely monitored once on the market and can quickly be removed from [the] market if safety concerns are identified.”

On Wednesday, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate was approved for use in Canada.

The authorization does not apply to those under the age of 16, as there is not enough data from the clinical trials on how the vaccine affects younger people.

On Tuesday, the UK became the first country in the world to begin public use of the Pfizer vaccine, and some allergic reactions were reported.

When asked about the reactions, Dr. Supriya Sharma, a senior medical advisor with Health Canada, said that the vaccine is “still a drug” and that it may come with risks.

She noted that of the 44,000 people who took part in Pfizer’s clinical trials, two people had “severe” reactions. The most common reactions were discomfort at the injection site, a bit of fatigue, and a slight headache.

“When we do an authorization, it means that we’ve looked at it, and the benefits outweigh the potential risks. But, it is still a drug. It’s still a vaccine,” Sharma said at a press conference earlier this week.

“There are potential risks, even if they’re rare.”

Up to 249,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine are expected to arrive in Canada before the end of the year, and immunizations could start as early as December 15.

Canada has deals with seven manufacturers, including Pfizer, to procure up to 194 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with the option to purchase an additional 220 million.