AstraZeneca COVID-19 concerns: Trudeau still urges Canadians to get 'the very first vaccine that you are offered'

Elisabetta Bianchini
·3-min read

Following the announcement of changes to the guidelines for the administration of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau maintains that "the right vaccine for you to take is the very first vaccine that you are offered."

On Monday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 not be used for people under the age of 55 in Canada due concerns around blood clots associated with low levels of platelets, vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia (VIPIT).

"I understand how challenging this can be for Canadians," the prime minister said at a press conference on Tuesday. "The science is evolving as we get more and more data, experts are refining and shifting their recommendations."

"Canadians need to know that every step of the way there is one thing driving all these experts, and that is keeping Canadians safe and getting through this pandemic as quickly as possible."

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, stressed that every medication or vaccine can come with side effects, "which will not be picked up until many millions of people receive the vaccine."

"Please do remember that over the course of the administration of the vaccine to many millions of people in the world, if there should be any new signals we will be communicating that after a through examination," Dr. Tam said. "Science will continue to evolve in this space."

"The impact of COVID is much more serious in the older age groups and that’s the concern. We have a rising third resurgence, and with an acceleration of cases and with the serious outcomes in older populations, when compared to the relatively rare event, that’s how NACI made its recommendation as well."

The chief public health officer told to public to "rest assured" that vaccines will be safe and effective for the populations they are being administered to in Canada.

She added that under non-pandemic circumstances for routine vaccines, things evolved in a "slower track."

"When the clinical trial data did not have enough people over the age of 65 and then you get new information in real life,...that is the evolving science," Dr. Tam explained. "We are actually getting the real world data faster as well."

"Rare adverse events, even for routine vaccines, will come up once many more million of people get vaccinated... It’s just a matter of the amount of vaccines being rolled out across the world quite quickly, but the process itself isn’t different."

Dr. Tam expressed that there are particular concerns in Canada around how the ongoing increase in infection rate is impacting hospitals. An average of over 2,200 people with COVID-19 are being treated in Canadian each day and over 660 patients are being treated in ICUs, 14 per cent higher than last week.

"Most concerning is the continued increase in number and proportion of variants of concern that spread more easily and increase the risk of severe illness outcomes," Dr. Tam said. "New variant case numbers represent the tip of the iceberg as there are thousands more cases that have screened positive for problematic mutations."

More than 9,000 COVID-19 cases of variants of concern have been detected across Canada, 90 per cent of which are the B.1.1.7. variant.

This comes as the federal government announced that Pfizer will be moving up the shipment five million doses of its vaccine from later in the summer into June. Canada will receive at least one million does of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine every week from now until the end of May and in June, that will increase to two million doses a week.

Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, confirmed that 44 million doses of approved vaccine are expected to arrive in Canada prior to the end of June. The delivery schedule is still being finalized with Johnson & Johnson but deliveries of its Janssen COVID-19 vaccine should begin at the end of April.