Canada’s health minister says that provinces and territories are “free to use” AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on any groups aged 18 and above, despite the country’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendation to not give the vaccine to those under 55.
Patty Hadju’s statement came amid an announcement from the federal government Sunday afternoon to send more support, mainly in the form of personnel and testing, to Ontario as the province grapples with burdening ICU levels and record-breaking case numbers of COVID-19.
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Responding to several questions from reporters during a press conference, including one on whether or not the government would recommend provinces to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to age groups over 18, Hadju said that the NACI’s recommendations were evolving based on the current evidence and that there was nothing stopping provinces from more widely using the vaccines.
“Provinces and territories are free to use AstraZeneca in an age population over 18, as per Health Canada’s license for use in Canada,” said Hadju.
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“… in fact they [NACI] are reviewing AstraZeneca advice now and we’ll have an update in the near future, but there is nothing stopping the province of Ontario from changing their advice for use to their physicians within Ontario.”
Ontario announced Sunday it will lower its minimum age for the vaccine down to 40 years old from 55 on Tuesday. A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the call was made based on “current supply” of the vaccine.
The question over whether or not expanded usage of AstraZeneca’s shot should be considered by Canadian provinces and territories comes over reports of large amounts of the vaccine set to expire due to a lull in demand in the 55 and over age group to get that vaccine.
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The NACI first recommended the vaccine to not be given to those aged 55 and over in late March, citing concerns over reports of blood clotting then.
Two cases of rare blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine have been confirmed in Canada so far. While this has heightened hesitancy towards the vaccine, experts have since pointed to female birth control and smoking as being more likely to induce blood clotting.
Lauren Brigg, a survivor of the AstraZeneca vaccine blood clotting in the U.K., told Global News that she was in “so much pain” and had texted her family saying “I don’t know if I’m going to wake up.”
“I’ve got a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. And to be told that I had blood clots in my lungs, which is deadly? It was scary, and I did actually ask him (the doctor), am I going to die?”
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Both the European Medical Association and Health Canada have both maintained that the benefits of using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine still outweigh any of the risks.
“Reports of blood clots with low platelets in people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are very rare,” the Public Health Agency of Canada previously told Global News in a statement.
“Based on all of the evidence available internationally to date, Health Canada continues to consider that the benefits of the AstraZeneca and Covishield vaccines to protect against COVID-19 outweigh the potential risks.”
Canada has to date distributed over 12.7 million vaccines, including 2.3 million from AstraZeneca, to provinces and territories across the country, according to Health Canada. Hadju told reporters on Sunday that the country was expecting to receive between 48 to 50 million vaccine doses by the end June.
To date, over 9.7 million vaccine doses have been administered across the country — with just around 20 per cent of Canada’s population receiving at least one dose.
Healthcare workers and public health units across the country are now grappling with Canada’s third wave of the pandemic, with some provinces and territories recording record-breaking new cases of the virus. Hospitalizations and case numbers in Ontario have reached an all-time high as well.
— With files from the Canadian Press and Global News’ Hannah Jackson, Saba Aziz and Twinkle Ghosh.
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