Concerns grow over reports of blood clotting among some recipients, but WHO urges countries to keep using COVID vaccine.
Canada has recommended the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for people aged above 65 in a pivot from its original guidelines.
The government’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization had previously recommended that people above 65 should not receive the vaccine “due to limited information on its efficacy”.
However, that recommendation was based on early clinical data, and the NACI said on Tuesday that it made the change after reviewing “real-world effectiveness studies”. The recommendation still said Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna should be “prioritised” for older age groups.
The vote of confidence comes as several, mostly European, countries have temporarily suspended the use of the AstraZeneca inoculant over fears it might have caused some recipients to develop blood clots, despite assurances from the British-Swedish multinational, the European Union regulator – European Medicines Agency (EMA) – and the World Health Organization (WHO) that the jab is safe.
Global health experts have said the pause would set back vaccination rollouts and create an unfounded stigma against vaccines.
On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to reassure residents that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe after Germany, France, Italy and Spain joined other countries in pausing its use.
“Health Canada and our experts and scientists have spent an awful lot of time making sure every vaccine approved in Canada is both safe and effective,” Trudeau said. “Therefore, the very best vaccine for you to take is the first one that is offered to you.”
In response to the suspensions, AstraZeneca said on Sunday it had reviewed the data on 17 million people who received doses across Europe and found 37 cases of people who developed blood clots as of March 8.
It said its findings showed “no evidence of an increased risk” of blood clots in any age group or gender, adding: “This is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed COVID-19 vaccines.”
As of Monday, about 3.1 million vaccines had been administered in Canada, with just below 7 percent of the population having received at least one dose, according to the COVID-19 Tracker Canada.
Trudeau said last week that every Canadian who wants to be vaccinated will be able to do so by the end of September.