Manitoba puts age restriction on AstraZeneca vaccine, warns of variant spread

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WINNIPEG — Manitoba has brought in age restrictions for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine while health officials closely watch the rise in variants of concern.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine committee, says the AstraZeneca vaccine will be limited to people between the ages of 55 and 64.

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended that it not be given to people under the age of 55.

That comes after more reports that patients in Europe developed blood clots following vaccination with the AstraZeneca product.

Reimer says Manitoba has given out about 14,000 of 18,000 AstraZeneca doses, which are available through medical clinics and pharmacies.

People under 55 who have booked an appointment to get the AstraZeneca shot will be contacted and asked to cancel.

Reimer said the change is not expected to have a significant effect on the timeline for vaccine distribution at this time.

"This is a pause while we wait for more information to better understand what we are seeing in Europe," she said Monday.

There were 53 new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba on Monday.

The age for vaccine eligibility was expanded to people 64 and older and First Nations people 44 and older.

Manitoba has given at least one dose to more than 10 per cent of people who are 18 and older.

Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer, said everyone must remain cautious while vaccine rollout continues, especially considering the increase in variants of concern.

"One day last week up to a third of our cases had screened positive for B.1.1.7," said Roussin, referring to a strain first identified in the United Kingdom.

"This is showing us that the B.1.1.7 strain, like many other jurisdictions in Canada, is becoming the dominant strain."

Roussin said the variant leads to faster transmission, increased hospitalization at younger ages and more severe outcomes.

There were 136 more cases of the variants confirmed Monday. Most of them were linked to household contacts but there is also community spread, he said.

"We really are in that race against these variants of concern and the rollout of our vaccine."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2021.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press