Federal officials address AstraZeneca vaccine hesitancy

Officials say people should take whatever vaccine is first offered.

Canadian officials say the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and, although rare, severe side effects are commonplace in all vaccines and medications.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addressed concerns over the new vaccine Tuesday after it was announced it caused blood clots in a few exceptional cases in Europe.

Canada’s health professionals are now adding precautionary restrictions to the vaccine.

“The bottom line for Canadians is the right vaccine for you to take is the very first vaccine that you are offered,” Trudeau told reporters. “The more we get Canadians vaccinated quickly and safely, the quicker we’ll be able to get back to a semblance of normality.”

The head of Canada’s public health agency, Dr. Theresa Tam, confirmed there have been no reports of extreme side effects from AstraZeneca in Canada where over 300,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered to date.

In some jurisdictions, the vaccine may have been administered to people under 55, but the majority of provinces have so far been targeting people over 55 for vaccinations.

Canada is, however, taking a precautionary approach to the situation and isn’t recommending the vaccine be given to anyone under 55 years of age for now pending a full risk assessment by Health Canada.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization made the recommendation because the reports of blood clots coming out of some European countries occurred with inoculation patients under 55.

Tam said advice on any medication or vaccine can change over time as additional information is revealed and she called the current situation a “remarkable feat of international collaboration in science” identifying and investigating the initial reports.

She said Canadians can be reassured that there are systems in place to detect and analyze adverse occurrences with vaccines and officials will be transparent in reporting such instances.

“Every medication or vaccine can come with rare side effects which will not be picked up until many millions of people receive the vaccine,” Tam explained. “The initial clinical trial with tens of thousands would not pick up rare events.”

With Canada now losing the race of inoculations ahead of the third wave of COVID-19, and with cases spiking all over the country, health officials agree concerns and hesitancy over a vaccine could not come at a worse time.

Over the past week there have been an average of 4,600 new COVID-19 cases daily with 2,200 people in hospitals, a six per cent increase from last week.

Reported cases of variants of concern have now reached 9,000 cases across the country.

Variant cases are up 64 per cent from last week with the more deadly B117 variant accounting for 90 per cent of those occurrences.

Tam stressed that there are likely more cases than being reported and called the current instances “the tip of the iceberg.”

Over the weekend it was reported Toronto showed some disappointing turnouts for vaccinations. Bad weather may have been a factor where elderly people were forced to wait outside inoculation centres in the rain and cold.

In Ottawa, Trudeau visited one vaccination site on Tuesday with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. Trudeau said vaccinations were going well and people were enthusiastically lining up for the vaccine.

Trudeau announced Health Canada will be hosting a Facebook live event to address vaccine hesitancy.

A similar Zoom conference will be hosted by the Ontario Medical Association to debunk COVID-19 myths and misinformation.

At the federal COVID-19 update Tuesday officials did have some good news concerning vaccines.

Minister of procurement Anita Anand announced Pfizer will be pushing up shipments and Canada will receive five million doses ahead of schedule, meaning Canada will now have received 44 million doses in total by the end of June.

“This means millions more of Pfizer doses available to be administered to Canadians by the first day of summer. We said when vaccines were ready, Canada will be ready and we are,” Anand said.

For now countries around the world are vaccinating adults but Anand also confirmed Canada is researching vaccinations for children.

Those trials are ongoing with a number of vaccines. Youth trials are underway and trials for kids 12 and under have just started.

Tam said how long the trials take depends on how quickly enrolment of candidates can happen and on whether virus activity is prominent in the areas where trials take place.

She does not expect any results for youth until later in the year.

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