The Ontario government says it will now be administering AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to people age 40 and over.
In a statement Sunday afternoon, a spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said that, “based on current supply,” pharmacies and primary care settings in the province would be offering the vaccines to the now larger age group starting Tuesday.
The province’s move comes just hours after Canada’s federal health minister, Patty Hajdu, said that provinces and territories were “free to use” AstraZeneca’s vaccine on any groups aged 18 and above, despite the country’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommendation to not give the vaccine to those under 55.
Hajdu’s statement came after an announcement from the federal government Sunday afternoon that it will send more support to Ontario, mainly in the form of personnel and testing, as the province grapples with ICU levels and record-breaking case numbers of COVID-19.
Responding to several questions from reporters during a press conference, including one on whether or not the government would recommend provinces to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine to age groups over 18, Hajdu said that the NACI’s recommendations were evolving based on the current evidence and that there was nothing stopping provinces from more widely using the vaccines.
“Provinces and territories are free to use AstraZeneca in an age population over 18, as per Health Canada’s license for use in Canada,” said Hajdu.
“… in fact they [NACI] are reviewing AstraZeneca advice now and we’ll have an update in the near future, but there is nothing stopping the province of Ontario from changing their advice for use to their physicians within Ontario.”
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Healthcare accessibility advocate Sabina Vohra-Miller said that Ontario’s decision to widen its AstraZeneca vaccine age group was “exactly what we need to be doing.”
“So Ontario is on the brink of collapse right now. We’re on a high speed train, essentially unable to break in time. So opening the vaccine to 40 plus will save so many lives right now. It’s a good decision,” Vohra-Miller said in an interview with Global News.
“There’s so much due diligence on safety that is occurring. And at this point, given the situation in Ontario, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.”
The question over whether or not expanded usage of AstraZeneca’s shot should be considered by Canadian provinces and territories comes over reports of large amounts of the vaccine set to expire due to a lull in demand in the 55 and over age group to get that vaccine.
The NACI first recommended the vaccine to not be given to those below 55 in late March, citing concerns over reports of blood clotting then.
Two cases of rare blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine have been confirmed in Canada so far. While this has heightened hesitancy towards the vaccine, experts have since pointed to female birth control and smoking as being more likely to induce blood clotting.
Lauren Brigg, a survivor of the AstraZeneca vaccine blood clotting in the U.K., told Global News that she was in “so much pain” and had texted her family saying “I don’t know if I’m going to wake up.”
“I’ve got a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. And to be told that I had blood clots in my lungs, which is deadly? It was scary, and I did actually ask him (the doctor), am I going to die?”
Both the European Medical Association and Health Canada have both maintained that the benefits of using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine still outweigh any of the risks.
“Reports of blood clots with low platelets in people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are very rare,” the Public Health Agency of Canada previously told Global News in a statement.
“Based on all of the evidence available internationally to date, Health Canada continues to consider that the benefits of the AstraZeneca and Covishield vaccines to protect against COVID-19 outweigh the potential risks.”
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