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Ontario to receive AstraZeneca vaccines next week as government advises seniors against shot

Last Updated Mar 2, 2021 at 4:26 pm EDT

Ontario’s health minister says the province is expected to secure doses of Health Canada’s newly-approved AstraZeneca vaccine but will follow a national panel’s advice not to inoculate anyone above 65 years old with the shot.

On Monday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said provinces should not use AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 treatment on seniors over concerns of limited data on how well the vaccine will work in older populations.

NACI says the two mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna should be prioritized for Canadians over 65, while AstraZeneca should be offered to people under 65.

RELATED: Does it really matter which vaccine you get? 

Christine Elliott announced that the province will make an announcement on the distribution of AstraZeneca’s vaccine soon, adding that the plan to administer the shots is still being finalized.

Elliott says the vaccine could more easily be used in sites like correctional facilities because it does not need to be stored at the same cold temperatures as other vaccines already in use.

The federal Conservatives have also chimed in saying they’re worried about vaccine hesitancy among seniors because of conflicting advice on the use of the recently-approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Tory M-P Michelle Rempel Garner says the advice is confusing.

“I’m concerned that these reports will lead to seniors delaying getting a COVID-19 vaccine if a vaccine they perceive to be more effective than the one offered to them is not available,” said Garner.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the NACI recommendations are not final and can be changed in due course.

Health Canada says AstraZeneca’s vaccine can in fact be used on Canadians aged 65 or older, leading to confusion.

With the currently available treatments of Pfizer and Moderna, the province says it is considering delaying the second required shot even longer in an effort to speed up the overall vaccination timeline.

Elliott said the province will wait for confirmation from the NACI on delaying the second dose before releasing details to the public.

In British Columbia, health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said there is growing evidence that the interval between first and second doses of both the Pfizer and Moderna shots can be safely extended to four months while maintaining a strong and sustained level of protection from the virus.

Alberto Martin, a University of Toronto immunology professor, says a published clinical trial showed the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine provided 60 percent protection, but B.C. may have access to new or unpublished data.

He says there is “obviously some concern” about B.C.’s plan because he is not aware of any clinical trial that examined a four-month gap between doses, but difficult times — when the vaccine supply is so limited — require drastic measures.

On the subject of Pfizer and AstraZeneca’s vaccines, data from England’s mass vaccination program showed that both treatments were around 60 percent effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms in people over 70 after a single dose, according to an analysis released by the country’s public health agency.

A joint statement issued Monday from Minister Elliott and Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said the province is awaiting direction on second dose intervals.

With files from The Canadian Press

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