AstraZeneca vaccine pause nothing for Islanders to worry about, expert says

·4 min read
Rod Russell, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases with Memorial University, says Islanders should watch for symptoms from the AstraZeneca vaccine for 20 days, but have little to worry about. (CBC - image credit)
Rod Russell, a professor of immunology and infectious diseases with Memorial University, says Islanders should watch for symptoms from the AstraZeneca vaccine for 20 days, but have little to worry about. (CBC - image credit)

A professor on the faculty of medicine at Memorial University of Newfoundland says young people on P.E.I. who have received the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine shouldn't worry about the pause in the Island's rollout over concerns about blood clots.

"I don't think people should be any more worried about COVID-19 vaccines than they were last week," said Rod Russell, who studies viruses and the immune system.

P.E.I. suspended its use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for 18- to 29-year-olds on Monday, as Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended a pause in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on those under the age of 55.

The change in guidance comes following reports of rare blood clots in a small number of immunized patients in Europe. There have been no reported cases in Canada.

Health officials said any Islanders who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine and develop these symptoms four to 20 days after getting vaccinated should immediately seek medical attention:

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Chest pain.

  • Leg swelling.

  • Persistent abdominal pain.

  • Sudden onset of severe or persistent headache or blurred vision.

  • Skin bruising other than at the site of vaccination.

"Of course, every time there's bad news about any of the vaccines, it's going to make people a little more concerned," Russell said. "But we can't argue with the fact that the odds are really low with these blood clot issues."

Based on early research out of Europe, the clots are potentially deadly but seem to be rare, occurring in anywhere from 1 in every 125,000 to 1 in 1 million people. Russell compared the odds with plane crashes or lightning strikes.

Vaccine hesitancy

He said it's unfortunate that the pause will likely increase some people's hesitancy to get a vaccine, including among those who felt vaccine development was carried out too quickly.

"The truth is, the blood clot issue that we're dealing with now is so infrequent and so rare that I don't think if we had done even more clinical trials and longer clinical trials, we might not have even seen this, because it's so infrequent," he said.

"You had to test millions of people, which you wouldn't do in a vaccine trial, to find people having such a low frequency issue."

He said the approximately 1,700 Islanders who received doses should watch for the symptoms.

"But we can't forget the fact that millions of people have had these vaccines by now and haven't had any of these issues," he said. He said he'd rather take those odds than the risks of catching COVID-19.

An elderly man is administered the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in San Juan, metro Manila, Philippines. Millions of people worldwide have received the vaccine.
An elderly man is administered the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in San Juan, metro Manila, Philippines. Millions of people worldwide have received the vaccine.(Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

Some dose recipients not worried

Two servers in Charlottetown who received the first dose of the vaccine say the pause has been the talk of the town — and despite some initial concerns, they now seem happy to have received the jab.

Janhvi Chaudhari — who questions whether she'd have gotten the shot if she'd known about the possible clotting risk beforehand — says the fact her colleagues also received their first dose and have no apparent symptoms beyond headaches and sore arms gives her some reassurance.

"I was like, OK, I'm not the only one who took that vaccine," she said. "So I think it will be fine for everybody."

She says given the risks of COVID-19, getting the shot was likely worth it, and her bigger concern now is what to do about her second dose, which had been scheduled for July 7.

Sophia Bell said she was shocked and disappointed about the initial news of the suspension, but as she's read more she's become less concerned.

"There's more blood clots in birth control," she said.

Bell said the concern among her and her colleagues has become less about potential dangers and more about hoping that vaccine distribution will be restarted.

"I just really hope we can get our second dose and that we can go dancing. We can dance and listen to music and hug. I just want to hug people."

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