Surplus AstraZeneca vaccine emerges in Nova Scotia

·3 min read
A medical worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at a centre in Antwerp, Belgium, on March 18, 2021. Nova Scotia has lowered the eligibility age for the vaccine to 40. (Yves Herman/Reuters - image credit)
A medical worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at a centre in Antwerp, Belgium, on March 18, 2021. Nova Scotia has lowered the eligibility age for the vaccine to 40. (Yves Herman/Reuters - image credit)

Some pharmacists in Nova Scotia say we're about to find out how popular — or unpopular — the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is in the province.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, announced Wednesday the province is lowering the age for AstraZeneca eligibility to 40 years old.

His announcement comes at a time when there are 11,000 doses of the vaccine sitting in refrigerators across the province, with no appointments booked to get those shots in arms.

In many cases, appointments that were booked are being cancelled as those in the 55-plus cohort opt to wait for either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.

"We've certainly seen a lot of appointments being cancelled, and that's one of the reasons we're opening this up," Strang said. "There are people out there asking for the vaccine."

Last week, New Brunswick reported its first case of a blood clot reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccine. Health officials there said the person was treated and has since recovered. They also emphasized how rare these types of reactions are — one in every 100,000 to 250,000 doses.

Monaghan Pharmacy in Halifax took to Twitter this week to remind people they have more than 300 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and no appointments.

Not only were they having no luck booking, but some people who did have appointments were calling to cancel. The cancellations started Monday when the province invited those from the 55-59 age group to begin booking for the Pfizer and Moderna shots.

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021.
Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021.(Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The pharmacy's manager, Tina MacLean, said some of the vaccine will be used for second doses.

"But right now, if we don't have more people taking it, eventually there is nothing we can do with it," she said.

The province has been clear from day one that Nova Scotians have a choice, said Allison Bodnar, CEO of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

"If you want the AstraZeneca, you can choose it. Or if you don't want it, you could wait your turn for Pfizer and Moderna. So what we're seeing is a consequence of that policy," she said.

At Monaghan Pharmacy, MacLean said newly eligible people have already called, saying they want the shot once it becomes available Friday.

"[That age group] looked at the studies and they're comfortable making an informed decision to have that vaccine," said MacLean.

Strang said the decision to lower the age to 40 for AstraZeneca was based partly on supply and demand. Tracey Barbrick, associate deputy minister responsible for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, said the decision was a mathematical calculation based on risk and benefit.

In other words, Nova Scotia's epidemiology is such that it's time to get the AstraZeneca vaccine into as many arms as possible.

Nova Scotia was given 60,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. So far, 38,000 have been injected. Appointments are pending for 11,000 doses and another 11,000 are sitting in refrigerators, waiting.

Barbrick said at some point a decision will have to be made about whether to cancel more orders, or possibly return some.

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