Should Canadians who have received the AstraZeneca shot be worried?

Sabrina Almeida

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has come under fire from several Canadian doctors and pharmacists for its contradictory messaging on COVID-19 vaccines.

These healthcare professionals are concerned that recent comments surrounding NACI’s recommendations on the AstraZeneca and the Janssen (a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary) shots could create unnecessary confusion and promote vaccine hesitancy.

What has irked medics is NACI’s clearly stated preference for mRNA vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna.

A statement from the advisory body says, “NACI continues to preferentially recommend authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccines due to the excellent protection they provide and the absence of safety signals of concern”.

NACI appears to be telling Canadians they can opt for the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccines “if they do not wish to wait” for a Pfizer or Moderna shot and if benefits outweigh risk for the individual.

At the same time, the advisory body is also recommending all eligible individuals “get the first vaccine” that they are offered.

Doctors rightly point out that this mixed messaging is confusing and could hamper efforts to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, should Canadians decide to take NACI’s advice and wait for mRNA vaccines.

Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam is also worried that Canadians who have already taken the first dose of AstraZeneca may be hesitant about getting their second shot as a result of this advice.

NACI’s recommendations for the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines also appear to contradict Health Canada’s approval. While Health Canada has approved the vector-technology-based vaccines for adults 18 and older, NACI recommends it be used for adults who are 30 years and older.

The AstraZeneca jabs have made headlines across the world for causing a “rare” blood clotting disorder. NACI consequently updated its recommendations thrice—first restricting use to Canadian seniors, then adults 55 and older, and finally advising against use in younger adults.

Now the J&J vaccine has also been in the news for rare blood clotting issues, in addition to quality problems at a US manufacturing plant.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that news headlines have played a major role in making people hesitant about getting the AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines. NACI recommendations may have  stoked the flames further.

My mother didn’t want to take any COVID-19 vaccine because of the adverse daily news reports coming out in India. A majority of Indians have reportedly been given the AstraZeneca jabs as COVISHIELD was being locally manufactured. Now some Indians, including two of my aunts, are hesitant about taking the second dose.

Here in Canada, many friends shared their reluctance to take the AstraZeneca vaccine. Some in the GTA explored several vaccine clinics to determine which ones were giving Pfizer or Moderna shots. Others are relieved that we won’t be receiving supplies for a while, and hopeful they will get an mRNA vaccine when their turn comes.

Several officials including  PM Trudeau, Premier Ford and Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown have taken their AstraZeneca jabs on camera in an attempt to dispel fears surrounding the vaccine. This should have a positive impact on at least some COVISHIELD- hesitant Canadians.

It is true that NACI has put a spoke in the wheel, while being diligent and honest with the vaccine advice it provided to Canadians.

The fact that risk of blood clots after taking AstraZeneca shots is 1 in 250,000 (4 in a million) is what should reassure Canadians. Just seven cases were reported in Canada as of Tuesday, May 4 out of some 1.7 million doses of AstraZeneca’s viral vector product given as of April 24.

Also, doctors say they are learning more about vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) every day and treatment is available.

All COVID-19 vaccines have faced some amount of hesitancy with mRNA shots first being alleged to contain tracking devices and alter DNA.

Social media and the Internet have been the main causes of the hesitancy and fear surrounding COVID-19 vaccines. The “rush job” on manufacturing them also accounts for much of our discomfort and concerns. We’ll never be 100% comfortable with them.

Yet the important thing is to way the odds or do a risk versus benefits analysis. And it looks like not getting inoculated could be so much worse. Even if contracting COVID-19 might not take a toll on an unvaccinated individual there’s no telling what it could do to his/her loved ones, friends or coworkers who contract it from him/her.

With the province looking at mixing and matching vaccines because of uncertainties with supply of the Moderna and AstraZeneca doses all cards are on the table.

Like many Canadians, I’d rather take my chances with the vaccine than without it!




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