What is Wegovy? Weight loss drug from the makers of Ozempic is now available in Canada. Here's what you should know

The weekly injectable drug is used to treat obesity — but how does it differ from Ozempic?

"The 360" shows you diverse perspectives on the day's top stories and debates.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

Wegovy will finally be available in Canada. (mage via Getty Images)
Wegovy will finally be available in Canada. (mage via Getty Images)

As of Monday, May 6, Wegovy, an injectable weight management medication is now available in Canada. The drug was approved by Health Canada in November 2021, however shortages delayed its release until now.

Wegovy is a weekly injectable that was approved by Health Canada in November 2021. It contains semaglutide, a medication initially used to treat diabetes but was found to be effective in weight loss and weight management. Semaglutide is a peptide similar to glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), a hormone secreted in the lining of the small intestine, pancreas and central nervous system. Among other functions, GLP-1 stimulates insulin production and has been found to be a “physiological regulator of appetite and food intake.”

Semaglutide is considered a GLP-1 agonist, and causes weight loss by slowing down digestion, making you feel full for longer. Wegovy users are advised to modify their diet and exercise while taking the medication.

Wegovy is a weekly injectable weight management drug. (Image via Getty Images)
Wegovy is a weekly injectable weight management drug. (Image via Getty Images)

Wegovy is a prescribed medication for people with a body mass index (BMI) of greater than 30 kg/m2 or 27 kg/m2 so one as they have at least one weight-related condition such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia (high cholesterol) or obstructive sleep apnea.

According to Health Canada, Wegovy has also been approved for use for people between the ages 12 and 18 with a BMI in the 95th percentile for their age and gender.

Both Wegovy and Ozempic are both weekly injectables of semaglutide manufactured by Noro Nordisk.

Ozempic was approved by Health Canada in 2018 specifically as a medication for people with type 2 diabetes. Weight loss can be a byproduct of taking Ozempic, whereas Wegovy is a slightly higher dose of semaglutide specifically geared toward people who are obese or overweight but may have type 2 diabetes.

Semaglutide injectables can cause headaches. (Image via Getty Images)
Semaglutide injectables can cause headaches. (Image via Getty Images)

According to Noro Nordisk, potential side effects of Wegovy can include:

  • nausea or vomiting

  • diarrhea

  • stomach pain

  • headache

  • constipation

  • feeling tired or weak

  • feeling dizzy

  • burping and gas

  • bloated or inflamed stomach (gastritis)

  • heartburn

  • hemorrhoids

  • hair loss

Other side effects can include low blood sugar, low blood pressure, a change in the way food or drink tastes. The manufacturer includes an extensive guide for consumers that includes rare side effects such as fast heartbeat, fainting and bowel obstruction to name a few.

In all cases, consumers are advised to contact a medical professional if they experience gallstones, pancreatitis, acute kidney injury and severe allergic reaction. Consumers with diabetes are advised to be cautious of severely low blood sugar or complications with their eyesight (diabetic retinopathy).

Wegovy users are advised to modify their diet and exercise. (Image via Getty Images)
Wegovy users are advised to modify their diet and exercise. (Image via Getty Images)

Bias-free treatment options for obesity

"In Canada, over one in four adults aged 18 and older grapple with the complexities of obesity, a pressing health concern. It's imperative that those living with obesity receive the support and care they rightly deserve," said Priti Chawla, Executive Director of Obesity Matters in a press release. "Shifting the conversation on obesity from blame and shame to empowerment and inclusion is paramount. Access to effective treatment options is crucial for managing this disease effectively."

"Let's end the blame and shame associated with obesity and recognize that obesity is a complicated genetic medical condition, and not a self-imposed personal failure," said Dr. Sean Wharton, internal medicine physician and weight management specialist in a press release. "Along with lifestyle interventions and self-love, Wegovy and similar medications will bring much-needed relief to people living with the challenges and complications of obesity."

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Dr. Ehud Ur, a Vancouver-based endocrinologist said physicians should exercise discretion when prescribing Wegovy. "Physicians are ultimately the gatekeepers of this, and hopefully there will be responsible prescribing for the medication," Ur said.

"We want to make sure we're very precise, that we're not talking about ... cosmetic or physical appearance," Dr. Sanjeev Sockalingam of Obesity Canada told The Canadian Press.

Although Noro Nordisk did not disclose how much Wegovy will cost for Canadians, experts are concerned about access to the drug.

“Many in our community, and especially those in the lower socioeconomic bracket, they find these treatments are financially out of reach,” Dr. Priti Chawla, executive director of Obesity Matters told The Canadian Press. “It's essential that we work towards making Wegovy affordable and accessible to all Canadians who need it.”

Experts are estimating the cost of Wegovy to be approximately $400 a month. Because the drug was created specifically to aid weight loss, its unclear whether Canadians will be paying for the drug out of pocket.

"[Insurance companies] have to state specifically whether they will or will not cover this product," said Dr. Sean Wharton, a Toronto-based internal medicine specialist.

Let us know what you think by commenting below and tweeting @YahooStyleCA! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram.