Benefits of AstraZeneca outweigh risk, says N.S. chief medical officer of health

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Nova Scotia will continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for those age 60 to 64. (Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)
Nova Scotia will continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for those age 60 to 64. (Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images - image credit)

As Canada changes its recommendations on the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health is reassuring those who have already received it.

On Monday, Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) changed its recommendations for the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, suggesting that those under the age of 55 should not receive it for safety reasons.

The change comes after research and reports in Europe identified a risk of blood clots in people who have received the AstraZeneca shot — notably younger women. Germany's Paul Ehrlich Institute reported an incidence rate of about one in 100,000, with a mortality rate of about 40 per cent, although more research is needed and that risk is reduced if treated early enough.

There have been no reports in Canada of blood clots related to the vaccine.

Nova Scotia has been using the AstraZeneca vaccine for people between the ages of 60 and 64.

On Tuesday, Dr. Robert Strang, the chief medical officer of health, said the province will continue to use it for those aged 60 to 64, and once everyone in that age group who wants the AstraZeneca shot has received it, eligibility will be expanded to those between the ages of 55 and 59.

Strang said while news of blood clot concerns "may be scary" for Nova Scotians who have received their first dose of the vaccine, he assured them that the province's use of the vaccine so far has been within the currently recommended age groups.

"The benefits of getting the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the increased risk of COVID-19 in older adults," he said.

"This change does not mean the AstraZeneca vaccine isn't safe or isn't a good vaccine. It means that we are seeing something rare in a certain subset of the population that we need to monitor and get more information about. Until we do that, the safest most transparent thing to do is to limit the use of the vaccine."

The AstraZeneca vaccine was only ever going to comprise a "small portion" of Nova Scotia's vaccine supply, so, barring any major changes in recommended use, Strang said he doesn't anticipate any significant effects on the province's projected vaccination schedule.

3 new cases announced Tuesday

Nova Scotia reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. The province's known active caseload is 24.

One of the new cases is in the central zone and is a close contact of a previously announced case. Another is in the northern zone and is currently being investigated, and the third is in the eastern zone and is related to travel outside Atlantic Canada. That person is self-isolating.

Laboratories in the province completed 2,572 tests on Monday.

So far, 94,373 doses of vaccines have been administered to Nova Scotians, including 25,102 second doses.

The province is expecting a 30,420 doses to be delivered this week, down from 36,520 last week.

Virtual care extended

The province has extended the option for doctors and other health-care practitioners to use phone and video conferencing appointments to March 31, 2022.

The opportunity to use virtual care was created last year in order to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19 at in-person appointments. Since the online visits were permitted, more than 1.5 million health-care services have been provided.

"It's good for follow-up when it comes to primary care. It's very useful when it comes to mental health and counselling," Health Minister Zach Churchill said Tuesday. "We think this is a tool that Nova Scotians will continue to benefit from."

The province will evaluate the virtual health-care program before the end of March 2022 to determine what the long-term approach will be.

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Houston questioned why the Liberal government is reluctant to make virtual care permanent.

"We should be using the most modern technology we have for all kinds of things: FaceTime, Zoom ... we have to figure out the security part of it, but it's not new," Houston said.

"It's just new to Nova Scotia. Let's just bring it here like the rest of the world."

The federal government will give the province $5.9 million to improve access to virtual support for mental health and addictions, including for vulnerable communities and for enabling language translation for websites. The funding will also be used for an online appointment booking system for lab tests and diagnostic services.

Clinics in Black Nova Scotian communities

Premier Iain Rankin also announced two new vaccination clinics that will be hosted in Black Nova Scotian communities.

The Emmanuel Baptist Church in Upper Hammonds Plains, N.S., will host a clinic starting April 8 for those aged 55 and up. The Association of Black Social Workers will contact members of the community to book appointments.

Another clinic is planned in Cherry Brook at the New Beginnings Ministries on April 13 and 14.

Rankin said other vaccination clinics in Black Nova Scotian communities are in the planning stage and will be announced later.

Rural transportation available for vaccination appointments

The Rural Transportation Association is providing accessible rides to people who live in rural areas and need a ride to their vaccination appointment.

Each round trip costs $5 and is available to anyone who doesn't have a transportation option to get to a vaccine clinic.

People must still book an appointment for a vaccine through public health.

Funding for the program was provided by the provincial Health Department and the Communities, Culture and Heritage Department. For more information about the program, visit the association's website.

Atlantic Canada case numbers

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