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Canada’s plant-based vaccine is finally approved

Canada’s drug regulator Health Canada has recently approved a plant-based coronavirus vaccine developed by the Quebec City-based company Medicago in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

According to the health regulators, clinical trials had shown that the two-dose Covifenz vaccine was 71 percent effective against infection. However, since the trials took place before the emergence of the Omicron variant, it is not yet clear how the vaccine fares against this particular strain. This is the second non-mRNA vaccine approved in Canada, after the protein-based vaccine developed by Novavax, a medical company from Maryland.

Covifenz is based on proteins resembling the coronavirus that are produced by a plant similar to tobacco, and is administered intramuscularly together with an adjuvant produced by GSK that helps rev up the immune system. Health Canada recommended the use of this vaccine to individuals 18 to 64 years of age in two doses given 21 days apart.

This vaccine can be stored at normal refrigerator conditions, between two and eight degrees Celsius. One of the most common side effects identified during the clinical trials was arm soreness, which is likely caused by the GSK adjuvant. Although other minor side effects such as chills, fatigue, joint and muscle aches, headaches, or nausea have also been identified, Covifenz appears to cause less cases of fever or flu-like systemic symptoms than other vaccines.

“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, president and CEO at Medicago. “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.”

“This first approval is an important milestone in our approach of pairing GSK’s well-established pandemic adjuvant with promising antigens to develop protein-based, refrigerator-stable COVID-19 vaccines to help protect people against COVID-19 disease,” added Roger Connor, president of GSK Vaccines.

Last year, the Canadian government agreed to buy 76 million doses of Covifenz. However, since 82 percent of Canadians over the age of five are already vaccinated, many of these doses will probably be sent to other countries.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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