Changes to the eligibility criteria for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine could be announced shortly as the province whittles down its inventory of the fridge-stable vaccine.
As of Wednesday, about 22,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been administered in the province, said Dr. Josss Reimer, the medical lead for Manitoba’s vaccine task force.
Manitoba has received 84,100 doses of the vaccine, including 11,500 that arrived Wednesday, which are administered at pharmacies and medical clinics.
"A lot of the low numbers that we're seeing in our distributed channel come from a variety of different things," Reimer said. "We know that there's delays in data entry from that channel, but the second is that those channels are slower for good reason. They need to continue to do their regular work at the same time as doing this rollout."
In Manitoba, the AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine is only offered to people 65 and older, and to people between the ages of 55 and 64 who have specific health conditions, despite the general age eligibility criteria for immunization currently at 59 and older.
The 55-plus age restriction follows a recommendation by the federal National Advisory Committee on Immunization to pause administering the vaccine to younger people as health authorities investigated a serious, but rare, side-effect that causes a blood-clotting condition. One such case has been reported in Canada.
Health Canada announced Wednesday it would not restrict the use of the vaccine in any specific populations following its review of the scientific data.
"Based on the review of available data from Europe and from the United Kingdom and AstraZeneca, no specific risk factors have been identified," Health Canada said in a statement.
"The potential risk of these events is very rare, and the benefits of the vaccine in protecting against COVID-19 outweigh its potential risks. Health Canada’s findings are based on a sound and thorough review of all evidence available. In the very rare event that someone experiences unusual blood clots with low platelets, there are treatments available," the statement said.
The national advisory committee is reviewing information to determine whether to modify its recommendation not to use the vaccine in people under 55.
In other provinces, the AstraZeneca vaccine is administered to people 55-plus who have no underlying health conditions; however, Reimer said the province is waiting on the national advisory committee’s recommendation before changing how the product will be used in Manitoba.
"We really want to work together with them to have one approach. As soon as we hear from NACI, and we hope that it’s soon, we’re looking forward to increasing eligibility if that’s what they recommend," she said.
Danielle Da Silva
Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.