Alberta is temporarily pausing the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for residents under the age of 55, following warning about possible side effects.
On Monday, Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced Alberta would be taking precautionary measures with the rest of Canada and pausing the distribution of the vaccine.
The pause follows rare reports from Europe of instances of blood clots linked to the vaccine.
"There is no evidence of any similar issues linked to the other vaccines that we are using in Alberta," Hinshaw said.
"There have also been no reported cases of these blood clots following immunization in Alberta or anywhere in Canada."
Hinshaw said those who have already received the vaccine under the age of 55 are not at a high risk for blood clots.
"However, as with anyone who receives any medication, including vaccine, they should monitor their health and seek immediate medical attention if they experience health concerns,” Hinshaw said.
So far, around 900 Albertans under the age of 55 have received the AstraZeneca vaccine, and right now studies are being conducted to find out which vaccine those already immunized with the first dose should receive for their second dose.
While the province plans to pause the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of four vaccines now available to Canadians, Hinshaw said the province still plans to hit its target of offering a vaccine to all adults in the province by the end of June.
"This will depend on receiving the amounts of Pfizer and Moderna vaccine that we anticipate, but we believe that it still may be possible to meet that target."
During the pause, Health Canada will be conducting more research into the health claims about the vaccine and gathering information from around the world.
"We will continue monitoring the emerging evidence around this issue," Hinshaw said.
"We will also continue doing everything possible to ensure that our immunization program remains safe and effective."
Hinshaw said AstraZeneca is still a good choice for those who are at risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 who would otherwise have to wait months to get a vaccine, with the benefits of the vaccine far outweighing the potential risks.
"It is 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.
Albertans with chronic health conditions will be able to start booking their vaccines on March 30.
Phase 2B is rolling out on Tuesday morning and more than 945,000 Albertans will be eligible throughout this phase. Albertans born between 1957 and 2005 (16 to 64 years of age) who have eligible health conditions can receive vaccinations through this phase.
Those eligible include cancer patients, transplant recipients, individuals with disabilities, dementia and other conditions that put them at higher risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19. Bookings open by birth year, with additional birth years being added as more vaccines arrive.
Starting March 30, Albertans born between 1957 and 1963 with eligible underlying conditions will be able to book appointments through participating pharmacies that have vaccine supply in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer. In the coming week, as more vaccine supply is available, other pharmacies will begin to offer bookings.
Starting April 5, Alberta Health Services will start taking bookings for people born between 1957 and 1959.
“This is great news for vulnerable Albertans and another big step forward in our vaccine roll out. Anyone with these serious health conditions will now be eligible for vaccines that give effective protection from COVID-19. We’re ramping up our vaccinations as fast as the incoming vaccine supply allows. Every adult in Alberta will be offered a first dose by the end of June,” said Tyler Shandro, Minister of Health, in a press release.
A doctor’s note or other proof of condition is not required to get the vaccine, but the province said Albertans may want to talk with their doctor or pharmacist to determine if they are eligible for the shot.
On Monday, the province reported another 545 new cases of COVID-19, with 249 cases linked to the more contagious variants of concern. The variants of concern now make up around 27 per cent of the current active cases.
The province ran 8,362 overnight for a 6.5-per-cent positivity rate.
There are currently 288 people in the hospital with the virus and 64 of those are in intensive care.
So far, 608,302 vaccine doses given out as of March 28.
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, St. Albert Gazette