Immunization providers say they aren’t concerned about being able to use Manitoba’s remaining supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine despite negative and confusing messaging about it.
One Winnipeg pharmacist, who requested anonymity, told the Free Press a number of appointments for AstraZeneca had been cancelled in recent days, and the pharmacist chalked it up to people being concerned about reports of blood clots.
A rare blood clot has been reported in about one in 100,000 people immunized with the AstraZeneca vaccine, with a mortality rate of about 40 per cent. The information was reported by Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization. On Monday, the committee said people who are less likely to contract the virus might want to wait until they can get Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, which are mRNA vaccines that don’t have the same risk.
Federal and provincial officials responded by advising the public to take the first shot that is offered to them. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau insisted he felt safe receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, and encouraged eligible Canadians not to hold out for another vaccine.
Of the 84,100 AstraZeneca doses shipped to Manitoba, 71,640 have been administered at pharmacies and medical clinics, a provincial spokesman said, and "many appointments" for the remaining 12,640 doses have been booked. All doses administered to date have been the first of two shots, while the spokesman said no further shipments of the vaccine had been confirmed by the federal government as of Wednesday.
Other pharmacists who spoke to the Free Press Wednesday said cancellations aren’t an issue.
Bhargav Desai, the manager of Peguis Pharmacy on Portage Avenue, said he doesn’t believe he’ll have trouble filling appointments when he gets his next AstraZeneca dose allocation.
"I would say maybe one-in-50 or one-in-100 go for the Pfizer (or Moderna) if they are eligible at the super sites," he said. "Mostly, they have no issue."
Desai’s last shipment of AstraZeneca was on April 20. All of the doses were used and no appointments were cancelled.
Barret Procyshyn’s Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy has given out more than 400 AstraZeneca doses. No more doses were scheduled to arrive as of Wednesday.
"We ran out before this latest recommendation (from the national committee). I haven’t seen cancellations, per se, but I’ve seen hesitancy... There is a lot of concern and there is a lot of confusion. There’s mixed messaging coming from (the committee) and Health Canada," said Procyshyn, a former president of Pharmacists Manitoba.
He noted the association and province are looking to get mRNA vaccines into pharmacies and medical clinics.
The messaging about AstraZeneca has been confusing. In March, the national committee, which is independent from government, suggested provinces hold back on administering AstraZeneca to younger people, due to the rare blood clots. Health Canada eventually added a warning label.
By mid-April, pharmacies in Ontario had reported low uptake of the AstraZeneca shots, prompting that province to vastly expand its age criteria to protect people in their 40s from more contagious variants, while federal officials urged Canadians to take whatever shot they’re offered first.
But the independent panel doubled-down on April 23 when it said anyone aged 30 and older should only get the AstraZeneca shot if an mRNA option (Pfizer or Moderna) isn’t available.
Manitoba officials don’t have the same take as the independent panel.
On Wednesday, Dr. Joss Reimer, the medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, insisted the AstraZeneca vaccine is less risky than being unprotected from COVID-19.
"We open up eligibility to those groups where the data tells us that there’s a very clear benefit for them to receive the vaccine, and that choosing to wait does put them at higher risk — of being exposed to the virus, at higher risk of ending up in hospital — than the risk associated with the vaccines," Reimer said.
Doctors Manitoba backs Reimer’s view.
Health Canada’s top scientist, Dr. Supriya Sharma, struck a similar note to Reimer on Wednesday, saying the risk of blood clots is far below the chance of a severe COVID-19 outcome.
Erik Pindera is a multimedia producer at the Winnipeg Free Press.
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