The last remaining manufacturer to offer an alternative to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in Canada is hopeful it will meet the government’s 2024 deadline to make the shots domestically.
Maryland-based Novavax held a press conference Wednesday to tout the safety and efficacy of its updated vaccine, which targets more-recent strains of COVID-19.
The company also emphasized the importance of having an option for people who can’t or won’t accept an mRNA shot.
The new formulation is awaiting Health Canada approval.
The federal government has promised to make the Novavax vaccine in Canada at the purpose-built National Research Council’s biologics manufacturing centre in Montreal. To date, the facility hasn’t produced a single dose intended for use in patients.
The company’s Canadian director, Andrew Boston, said it is currently producing test lots at the facility.
“That will then lead into what we hope will be full bulk antigen manufacturing in 2024,” Boston said at the press conference Wednesday, which was held over video conference.
He would not address further questions about vaccine production.
This summer, Ottawa amended its purchasing agreement with Novavax, and now has the ability to end the deal if the company isn’t approved to begin production at the facility by the end of 2024, documents filed to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission show.
The Biologics Manufacturing Centre and Novavax expect “full-scale production of bulk antigen at BMC to begin in 2024,” Isabelle Caron, executive director of the non-profit organization that now oversees the centre, said in a statement.
The federal government put $126 million toward the design, construction and commission of the Montreal site, which was completed in July 2021.
As of Sept. 10, little more than 35,000 doses of the original Novavax vaccine had been administered in Canada, compared to 96 million doses of mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
Novavax is one of only four manufacturers with COVID-19 vaccines that are approved for use in Canada.
Johnson & Johnson and Medicago’s vaccines are no longer authorized, and AstraZeneca’s vaccine is no longer available in Canada.
“Canadians may not be aware that other vaccine options are no longer available in Canada, apart from the mRNA vaccines,” said Bruce Seet, Novavax Canada’s head of medical affairs.
“Therefore Novavax’s protein-based vaccine represents the only non-mRNA vaccine option, which I think people will need to be aware of.”
The use of mRNA vaccine technology rapidly accelerated during the pandemic, and Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine was the first mRNA shot to be granted regulatory approval.
As provinces prepare to roll out their vaccine booster campaigns this month, Seet said the government should make sure there is equitable access to the mRNA alternative.
It remains unclear how many of the updated shots Health Canada plans to order if it approves the vaccine for use in Canada.
Given waning demand for COVID-19 vaccines in general, Canada recently agreed to pay the company $350 million to cancel its previously scheduled order.
Laura Osman, The Canadian Press