On March 29, the Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced that Alberta would be temporarily pausing the use of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca in anyone under the age of 55.
“This is a precautionary measure that is being taken across Canada. There have been some rare instances of blood clots reported in Europe that require more investigation. While all available data and evidence shows no increase in the overall risk of blood clots for those who receive AstraZeneca, in a very small number of people who received the vaccine a blood clot in the brain was reported four to 20 days after the vaccine,” Hinshaw said.
Adding, “These incidents are rare, and at this point seem to be linked to AstraZeneca, possibly through an immune response.”
There is currently no evidence of similar issues linked to the other vaccines being used in Alberta, there have also been no reports of blood clots following immunization in Alberta or Canada.
“Safety is always our top priority. This pause will allow Health Canada to conduct further assessments and gather more information from around the world,” Hinshaw said.
“I want to assure you that anyone under the age of 55 who has already received a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not considered to be at high risk of blood clots,” she said.
Although Albertans who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine are not considered high risk, Hinshaw urges all Albertans who have received any vaccine to monitor their health and seek immediate medical attention if they experience health concerns.
“We will continue to monitor the emerging evidence around this issue, we will also continue doing everything possible to ensure that our immunization program remains safe and effective,” Hinshaw said.
Studies are underway that will help determine what vaccine those already immunized with AstraZeneca will be able to receive when it comes time for their second dose.
“I know this sort of news may cause some concern for Albertans and that is understandable, however, I want to assure you that this temporary pause is the result of our robust safety monitoring working the way that it should,” Hinshaw said.
“There have been no safety signals related to the other vaccines we’re using in the province. The AstraZeneca vaccine remains a good choice for those that are at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 who would otherwise have to wait several months to access a vaccine,” she said.
Adding, “It’s important to remember that AstraZeneca is very effective at preventing severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection and that COVID-19 infections come with a very significant risk of blood clots and other complications. The benefits of getting the vaccine far outweigh the small potential risks in groups more likely to have severe outcomes from COVID-19 infection.”
Alberta Health will continue to offer AstraZeneca to Albertans over the age of 55 when more doses arrive.
“Based on what we’re currently anticipating we will receive in the next several months, we believe we may still be able to hit the end of June target, even without using AstraZeneca.
This will depend on receiving the amounts of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine that we anticipate,” Hinshaw said.
In addition to pausing the use of AstraZeneca for anyone under the age of 55, the government of Alberta is also beginning Phase 2B of the immunization program.
This phase focuses on immunizing anyone with underlying health conditions that put them at high risk of severe outcomes.
“I know many people will be excited that Phase 2B is soon to be underway, at the same time we must ask for Albertan’s patience, with nearly one million Albertans in Phase 2B this is the largest signal group we have made eligible for vaccination,” Hinshaw said.
“With limited supply, we will have to move slowly and take small steps until more doses arrive,” she said.
Albertans born from 1957 to 1963 or earlier with underlying health conditions can book an appointment at participating pharmacies.
“I know many Albertans will benefit from vaccination, including those with other medical conditions. I urge people to wait their turn and ensure those at the highest risk receive protection first,” Hinshaw said.
“Immunization saves lives. The highly effective protection against COVID-19 that they offer far outweigh the rare risks that may be possible,” she said.
Moving forward, Hinshaw’s team will continue to monitor every vaccine dose for adverse events.
If there are any safety signals in Canada or around the world, they are investigated quickly and thoroughly to ensure the appropriate steps to protect Albertans.
“Every day we immunize thousands of more people across the province, and every day we get a little closer to a safe return to normal. I know many people are eager to move on, to ease restrictions, and start moving past this pandemic, it will take a few more months but there are things that each of us can do to help make that happen,” Hinshaw said.