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Strang reassures everyone AstraZeneca vaccine is fine

After new NACI warning, people over 55 will still be able to get the AZ shot in the coming weeks and months.

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Yesterday, Health Canada and NACI–the National Advisory Committee on Immunization–declared that the AstraZeneca vaccine is no longer recommended for Canadians under age 55, due to a potential reaction after vaccination. “This adverse event is being referred to as Vaccine-Induced Prothrombotic Immune Thrombocytopenia (VIPIT),” says the Health Canada website.

Today at the regular COVID-19 press briefing, provincial top doc Robert Strang confirmed the news for Nova Scotians. “Canada’s chief medical officers of health are fully supportive of this recommendation and are collectively taking action in each of our own provinces,” he said.

Although several cases of blood clots have arisen in the UK in recent weeks, until today Strang had reassured Nova Scotians there was no risk of that happening here with the AZ vaccine. “We don’t actually have that specific product here in North America, we’re using a product from a different manufacturing site, so it’s not specifically the same product,” he said in a press conference on March 12.

But now, Strang is saying that a few people, mostly women under age 55, have shown signs of developing blood clots that are likely-but-not-confirmed-to-be AZ-related. “In the past few weeks there has been an increasing number of reports from Europe of rare but serious cases of blood clots associated with low levels of the cells that help the blood clot platelets,” he said Tuesday. 

The blood clots typically occur between four and 16 days after vaccination, and 40 percent of those who developed blood clots have died. But the cases are still few and far between–one case for every 100,000 doses given, according to the Health Canada website, or 25 cases and 9 deaths.

AZ manufacturers are now required by Health Canada to give a detailed risk-benefit assessment of the vaccine by age and gender in the Canadian context. Until such an assessment is done, AZ jabs are on pause for those under age 55.

Strang said anyone vaccinated with AZ within the last 20 days should monitor for symptoms including “shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, sudden onset of severe or persistent worsening headaches or blurred vision, and skin bruising other than at the site of vaccination.”

But the AZ rollout won’t be slowing down for the population of Nova Scotians between ages 55 and 64. About 38,000 doses from the original shipment of AZ are already in arms of 60-to-64-year-olds, or will be by their expiry date of April 2.

If all the people ages 60-64 are vaxxed up and we get more AZ in the coming weeks, Strang says appointments will open to those 55-59 years old.

“Anyone 55 and over can still get this vaccine if given the choice, as the benefits of getting the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risk of getting COVID-19 in older adults,” Strang said. “This does not mean that vaccine isn’t safe or isn’t a good vaccine. It means we are seeing something rare in a certain subset of the population that we need to monitor and to get more information about.”

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