Officials face battle of confidence amid controversy over Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

·2 min read

TORONTO — Federal officials are mounting a renewed push to instill Canadian confidence in Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, but observers predict they're in for a tough battle.

Members of the federal body tasked with advising the country on vaccine use took the unusual step of addressing public fears in a televised press conference Tuesday that stressed the vaccine’s safety for those over the age of 65.

The assurances come as new information leads to an update on previous advice, which initially suggested that seniors avoid the AstraZeneca vaccine because of insufficient trial data. NACI chair Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh says there is now enough "real-world evidence" to show it is both safe and effective for seniors.

Infectious disease doctor Zain Chagla says it's an important message, but confusing for Canadians as Germany and other European countries move to limit the vaccine's use while they investigate reports of blood clots emerging after some inoculations.

The European Medicines Agency says there is no evidence of a safety concern and is "firmly convinced" that the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh the risks.

But Chagla says unfounded doubts about efficacy and safety have been deeply sown and some people will have a hard time accepting updated advice.

Reached earlier this week as he anticipated NACI's revised guidelines, he noted the AstraZeneca product has been hit especially hard in recent weeks, on multiple fronts.

“Even if all of the dust settles on all of this stuff and it's (proven) effective in 65-year-olds and it's actually 80 per cent effective and there's no clot risk, you've already introduced three strikes that are hard to wash away from people who are already hesitant to take this vaccine over Moderna and Pfizer," Chagla, a specialist at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton.

Chagla said it’s up to NACI, Health Canada, and the various provincial health ministries to be transparent and clear on the evidence.

"This needs to be aggressively put out and people need to be really, really, really transparent, open and honest about this."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.

The Canadian Press