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Shipment of AstraZeneca arrives as NACI recommends against the shot for people under 55

Last Updated Mar 30, 2021 at 8:36 am EDT

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen with injection supplies at a clinic in Winnipeg, Friday, March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

The federal government is expecting around 1.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the United States on Tuesday.

The vaccines are expected to arrive by truck and represent the first to arrive in Canada by way of the U.S.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is now recommending a pause on AstraZeneca vaccinations for people under 55 due to safety reasons.

The NACI will advise provinces to stop giving the vaccine to anyone under that age group, following Prince Edward Island’s lead after they halted the shot for those aged 18 to 29 early on Monday.

Provincial governments decide on their own how to use a vaccine, but Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief medical officer of health, says all provinces and territories have agreed to suspend the use of the vaccine for those under 55, pending the results of further study.

RELATED: Ontario revises 2nd vaccine dose timeline for transplant, some cancer patients

The province’s are acting on an advisory committee’s concerns about a possible link between the shot and rare blood clots.

“NACI recommends that AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine should not be used in adults under 55 years of age at this time while the safety signal of Vaccine-Induced Prothrombotic Immune Thrombocytopenia (VIPIT) following vaccination with AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is investigated further,” said the NACI in a release.

The NACI says cases identified have been primarily in women under the age of 55 years but note that cases in men have also been reported and have mostly occurred between 4 and 16 days after administration.

“From what is known at this time, there is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to adults under 55 years of age given that the potential risks associated with VIPIT, particularly at the lower estimated rates,” the NACI continued in its release.

They said that adults 55 years of age and older may still be offered the AstraZeneca vaccine with informed consent, given the increased risk of hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 disease in this population.

Canada’s chief medical advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma says there have yet to be any reports of these aforementioned side effects in the country.

“Health Canada has previously communicated on an ongoing assessment of very rare adverse events reported in Europe of blood clots with low platelets occurring after immunization with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” said Sharma.

RELATED: York temporarily closing three COVID-19 vaccine clinics due to supply shortage

Ontario health minister Christine Elliott got the AstraZeneca vaccine on camera at a Toronto pharmacy around 9:15 a.m. Monday.

“It’s important for everyone when it’s their turn to get a vaccine,” said Elliott. “The more people that get the vaccine the sooner we can go back to normal life.”

Elliott says the province is studying COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy levels as it continues to urge people to get inoculated.

No one below 60 years old has received the AstraZeneca shot in Ontario.

“We have no concerns with those who have received it so far,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer.

The drugmaker updated the efficacy data for its vaccine last week. They say the shot is 76 percent effective against mild symptoms and 100 percent effective at preventing severe disease from the virus. In trial volunteers aged 65 and older, the vaccine was 85 percent effective in preventing symptoms.

Canadian health officials first recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under 65, but on March 16 it adjusted its advice to say that it could also be given to seniors.

With files from the Canadian Press

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