New plant-based COVID vaccine from Quebec approved by Health Canada

Feb 24 2022, 6:20 pm

There’s a new vaccine approved for Canadians, and its creators say it’s a “world-first” for plant-derived COVID-19 shots.

Manufactured by Quebec-based organization Medicago, they help boost immune response and have proven to be highly effective, with 75% against all infections related to the virus. 

And Canada already bought 20 million doses of the Health Canada-approved vaccine, with room for 56 million more, in October. It goes by the colloquial name “Covifenz,” and is administered in two shots.

The vaccines were originally tested before the Omicron variant started circulating, but preliminary data shows the vaccines could still be used to fight variants. That’s largely because they’re plant-based, which is new and exciting.

“While additional confirmatory data is needed, preliminary and exploratory data shows that Covifenz produces neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant,” Health Canada said in a statement.

Medicago uses the plant nicotiana benthamiana, a close relative to tobacco, to combat infections.

By comparison, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna use mRNA products, which not all people want to take. This new plant-based vaccine gives those folks another option.

It’s the sixth vaccine to be approved in the country, following last week’s go-ahead for the Novavax shot.

Health Canada is looking forward to more information about the promising new technology. 

Once the final regulatory approval has gone forward, the next step is sending them out to people who need them.

Medicago issued a press release on February 24 saying it wants to distribute the shots as soon as possible.

“The approval of our COVID-19 vaccine is a significant milestone for Canada in the fight against the pandemic. We appreciate Health Canada’s timely review,” said Takashi Nagao, the company’s president and CEO, in the statement.

“We’re also grateful for the Government of Canada’s support in the development of this new vaccine, and we are manufacturing doses to start fulfilling its order.”

The vaccines are only approved for use for Canadians 18 to 64, as they haven’t been tested on older, more highly vaccinated folks yet. More research is being done and findings will be announced to Health Canada as they’re made, especially in regards to how they could be used to fight future variants.

“There was limited enrolment of participants older than 65 years of age in the clinical trials because a large proportion of older individuals were already vaccinated,” Health Canada said in a statement. 

“Medicago is currently gathering data in older individuals to support regulatory authorization for this age group.”

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