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It’s irresponsible to refuse a vaccine (yes, even AstraZeneca)

If you’re a healthy person who doesn’t want a shot, you’re being selfish.

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Since vaccines first began rolling out in Nova Scotia, public health officials have been telling residents to get a vaccine as soon as they can, once one becomes available. “Ultimately it’s an individual choice, but I would say: if you get an opportunity to get a vaccine, take it,” said doctor Robert Strang during a press conference back in the first week of March.

On March 30, he reiterated that sentiment, specifically about the vaccine people saw as most risky, saying “the benefits of getting the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risk of getting COVID-19.”

Somewhere along the way, however, Nova Scotians were led astray. Blame for this is probably best assigned to the media, their own biases or the internet—and the warning from Strang and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization not to use AZ on those under age 55 certainly didn’t help. But even now that the NACI warning has been lifted and the vaccine is approved for anyone in Canada over age 30, there’s still inordinate skepticism about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Now some older adults who booked an AZ injection are backing out of their appointments. It’s happening enough that yesterday the province decided to open AstraZeneca access to a lot more people: 40-to-54-year-olds will be eligible for the vaccine by Friday, April 30.

“We’ve certainly seen a lot of appointments being cancelled and that’s one of the reasons we’re opening this up,” said Strang at the April 28 COVID briefing, where he and premier Iain Rankin announced the new age group eligibility.

“I know many of you have been asking for this and are anxious to get your shot,” said Rankin. “So we’re pleased to be able to add this age group to our program.”

The previously eligible age group, 55-to-64-year-olds, can still get AstraZeneca, but that cohort is now also eligible for Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which provoke an immune response using messenger RNA, a different technology than AZ. “We recognize that there’s a lot of information out there,” said Strang. What’s most important is “making sure people have clear information about the risks and benefit of the vaccine, and also when they might be able to get the mRNA vaccine, if that’s their choice.”

But based on our limited vaccine supply, Nova Scotians who refuse one vaccine might end up waiting a long time to get another type. And that could prevent the province from reaching its population immunity target. Strang said that so far, only about 25 percent of eligible 55-to-64-year-olds actually got a vaccine.

With the end-of-June target date growing ever-closer and with COVID-19 variant cases rising in the province, it’s more important than ever that Nova Scotians book a vaccine appointment—for any available vaccine—as soon as they can. As Strang said earlier in the week, "We are in a race between the variant and the vaccine."

If you’re worried about AZ side-effects and have heard horror stories on social media, just remember that birth control, smoking cigarettes and even flying in an airplane can also cause blood clots. And in the end, your risk of being admitted to the ICU with COVID is much higher—about 1 in 783 if you’re age 60-to-69–than your risk of an adverse event following vaccination, which is 1 in 500,000 for the same age group.

“Ultimately we want people to have clear information so they can make an informed choice about what type of vaccine they will get,” said Strang. For more information on the different vaccines available and vaccine safety, visit novascotia.ca/coronavirus/vaccine/.

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