Hajdu says 1st still best for vaccines, but 'wouldn't hesitate' to nix unsafe product

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Sunday that all vaccines in use in Canada have been approved by Health Canada, reiterating the best to take is the first one offered, but said the agency wouldn't hesitate to stop usage that wasn't safe and effective.

Flaunting of public safety measures 'heartbreaking,' federal health minister says

Health Minister Patty Hajdu, shown at a news conference in Ottawa in December, says vaccination is a major tool in fighting COVID-19 and avoiding another spike in cases. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Following a week of contradictory advice over whether Canadians should wait for "preferred" mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, Health Minister Patty Hajdu maintains the first vaccine offered remains the best, but she added that Health Canada continues to adapt its analysis of different types and would stop use if necessary.

"Health Canada continues to evolve their analysis based on the data that's accumulating in Canada, based on the data that's accumulating internationally," Hajdu said in an interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

"We wouldn't hesitate to cease or pause the use of a product if it was shown to not have value, safety or effectiveness."

The "first is best" approach has been a constant refrain from Canada's political leadership this year, but the mantra was shaken this week after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization indicated there may be "preferred" vaccines.

WATCH | Health Minister Patty Hajdu says 4th wave 'is in all of our hands':

Is the federal government prepared for a 4th wave?

Rosemary Barton Live

3 months ago
Health Minister Patty Hajdu talks to CBC's chief political correspondent, Rosemary Barton, about how the government and citizens need to work together to prevent a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the role vaccines play in slowing the spread. 9:23

The advisory group indicated Canadians not at high risk of contracting COVID-19 could wait until they had access to an mRNA vaccine — those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — instead of a viral vector dose, such as those developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford or Johnson & Johnson.

That advice prompted confusion and controversy over the potential for increasing vaccine hesitancy and "buyer's remorse" from those who had already received an AstraZeneca-Oxford shot. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Hajdu have maintained the first vaccine offered to Canadians is the one they should take.

The mixed messages come at a key time in the pandemic, when daily new cases are declining across the country from their peak, but per-capita rates in some provinces are near or reaching record highs.

Manitoba's per-capita case rate is the second highest in the country, behind Alberta, and the province reported 531 cases Sunday, just shy of its record high from November.

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Manitoba's chief provincial public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, was asked whether discussions were ongoing between medical officers of health across the country over whether to pause the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine altogether, given the influx of mRNA vaccines.

"That's been discussed at many levels, and certainly discussed at our provincial program right now," Roussin replied.

But he went on to reiterate the current advice that given the risk of COVID-19, Manitobans should get the first vaccine offered to them.

Help for any province that asks

Hajdu told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton that she plans to speak with her counterpart in Manitoba next week about potential federal support.

"I'll be offering that minister as much support as we have to Ontario," she said. Everything from sending in the Red Cross to help with vaccination clinics is on the table, added Hajdu.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, shown on May 4, says it is still best to get the first shot offered so that as many Canadians can get vaccinated as quickly as possible. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The health minister said vaccination is a major tool in fighting the pandemic and avoiding another spike in cases.

"I think the fourth wave, so to speak, is in all of our hands," she said.

"We can't take this virus likely. We cannot assume that we're out of the woods."

Several provinces have experienced major protests against ongoing or renewed public health measures, including one in Alberta on Saturday, when hundreds gathered, leading to one arrest and dozens of tickets.

"Heartbreaking is the word" Hajdu said. She urged community leaders to pull together and help guide people toward the "finish" line, adding the Canada could see a "better summer."

Hajdu also responded to a question on border controls by saying the topic had been discussed by G7 health ministers, and "every G7 country is struggling with this question." She said she was primarily looking at the situation in Canada, but was keeping an eye on other countries as well.

"The world is struggling with it, not just Canada."

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.