Canadian officials and experts have sought to assure the vaccine is safe, after several countries paused its use.
Canada is pausing the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for adults below age 55, a top public health officer said on Monday, after an advisory panel cited “substantial uncertainty” around the potential risk of developing rare blood clots.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization earlier recommended recommended a pause in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Canadians in that age group.
“We are acting decisively with our unified position to pause the use of AstraZeneca vaccine in Canada in those under age 55 at this time,” Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, Howard Njoo, told reporters on Monday afternoon.
“We are taking this precautionary measure while Health Canada, as the regulator, completes its updated risk-benefit analysis based on emerging data.”
Canada is the latest country to temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca vaccines after rare cases of blood clots were reported.
Several nations, mostly in Europe, paused the use of the jabs this month, despite assurances from the British-Swedish multinational, European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) that the vaccine is safe.
“As of now, we do not know whether some or all of the conditions have been caused by the vaccine or by other coincidental factors,” Hans Kluge, WHO director for Europe, said on March 18. “At this point in time, however, the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh its risks – and its use should continue, to save lives.”
Last week, Health Canada also tried to reassure Canadians, saying the AstraZeneca vaccine “continues to be safe and effective” and encouraging people to get inoculated with any of the vaccines authorised for use in the country.
Njoo said Canada, which has not had any reports of blood clots to date, has other vaccine options to inoculate its population while the review is underway.
“Adults 55 years of age and older may still be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine given the increased risk of hospitalisation and death due to COVID-19 in this population and since VIPIT reports have been even rarer in that age group,” he added.
On Monday afternoon, the province of Quebec announced that it would temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people below 55 “until expert assessments are completed”.
British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, and Newfoundland and Labrador said they would pause its use for anyone under 55. Prince Edward Island, where the AstraZeneca jab had been offered to residents between the ages of 18 and 29, also temporarily suspended its use.
The country is expected to receive 1.5 million doses of the vaccine from the United States on Tuesday, Canadian media have reported.
Health Canada said earlier on Monday that it also would require AstraZeneca to provide “a detailed assessment of the benefits and risks of the vaccine by age and sex in the Canadian context”.
“This information will support the ongoing evaluation of these rare blood clotting events, and allow Health Canada to determine if there are specific groups of people who may be at higher risk. Health Canada has been in discussions with AstraZeneca on this evolving issue,” it said in a statement.