Here’s a primer that breaks down why B.C. is halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in younger people, but at the same time accelerating the vaccination of other age groups using this vaccine

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On Monday, B.C. announced it was suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people 55 and younger due to concerns over a “very rare” blood clot condition.

Here’s a primer that breaks down why B.C. is halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in younger people, but at the same time accelerating the vaccination of other age groups using this vaccine.

Q: I got the AstraZeneca vaccine. What should I do?

A: If it has been more than 20 days since you received your AstraZeneca vaccine, you don’t need to worry.

If it has been less than 20 days, monitor yourself for symptoms and if you develop the following symptoms starting four to 20 days after receiving your shot, go to the nearest emergency department:

  • Severe headache that does not go away
  • Seizure
  • Difficulty moving parts of your body
  • Blurry vision that does not go away
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • New severe swelling, pain, or colour change of an arm or a leg
  • Abnormal bruising, reddish or purple spots or blood blisters under the skin, or bleeding beyond the site of vaccination.

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For more information, visit the B.C. Centre for Disease Control vaccine information page.

If you have side effects such as pain, redness, itchiness or swelling at the injection site; swollen lymph nodes under the arm pit; tiredness or headache; fever and chills; muscle and joint soreness; nausea and vomiting — these are common symptoms that could surface a day or two after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. These symptoms should go away on their own.

Q: Why is B.C. stopping the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for some people?

A: B.C. suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people 55 and younger on Monday, acting on a recommendation from Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

This comes amid new data from Europe that suggests the risk of blood clots is now potentially as high as one in 100,000 compared to the one in one million risk previously believed.

Called vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia (VIPIT), these rare events have happened primarily among women under the age of 55, with a mortality rate of 40 per cent, although experts say that risk will be reduced if the condition is spotted and treated early.

There has been fewer than 30 cases identified around the world, primarily in Europe.

There has been no reports of blood clot incidents in people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine in B.C. or in Canada.

In the meantime, Health Canada has asked the drug maker to conduct a study on the risks and benefits of the vaccine across multiple age groups. NACI has recommended the shot be suspended for younger groups pending the outcome of the review.

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Q: Who has received the AstraZeneca shot in B. C.? 

A: In early March, B.C. said it will use around 68,000 doses of the vaccine to curb outbreaks and at high-risk workplaces, such as food processing, agriculture and large industrial camps.

The province then announced it planned to give priority to more than 300,000 front-line essential workers, including first responders, teachers, grocery store workers, and child care workers starting April. It is unclear how many of those workers can expect to get their shots.

Q: What’s the deal with the negative news surrounding AstraZeneca? 

A: The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved in Canada for adults on Feb. 26 under the brand names AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine and COVISHIELD Vaccine. 

From the start, it had to fight against a perception it’s a lower-tier drug because of lower efficacy results than its competitors. Trials showed the vaccine was 62 per cent effective against COVID-19 infections, but entirely prevented COVID-19 related hospitalizations and deaths.

Then there was confusion about whether the AstraZeneca vaccine was effective for seniors. NACI initially withheld its recommendation on the use of the vaccine for seniors, but later reversed its decision, citing new real-world evidence from the U.K. that showed the vaccine was effective. 

In mid-March, European health authorities suspended use of the vaccine following reports of blood clots from people who have received the vaccine. Canadian health officials assured the public the vaccine is safe, as the very small number of people who experienced blood clots isn’t out of step with the normal rate of blood clots in the general population.

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On March 24, Health Canada revised its label for the AstraZeneca vaccine to add information about the “very rare reports of blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets.” It says the shot remains safe and the benefits of getting the vaccine outweigh the risks.

On March 29, NACI recommended against the use of the vaccine in people age 55 and younger. B.C. and other provinces suspended its use for this demographic.

Q: Is AstraZeneca safe? 

A: Health authorities maintain the vaccine is safe and effective.

On Tuesday, the provincial government announced it is moving up vaccine availability for people in the Lower Mainland ages 55 to 65. Starting Wednesday, eligible people will be able to call one of 150 pharmacies to make an appointment to receive an AstraZeneca shot. 

“We know from the millions of doses used worldwide, and especially in the U.K., it is highly effective and the benefits to those over age 55 far outweigh the very real risks of getting COVID-19,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry. “I encourage everyone in the Lower Mainland who is between 55 and 65 years of age to receive their safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine today.”

Q: Is this going to delay the vaccination schedule for younger people?

A: On Monday, B.C. Premier John Horgan said suspension of use of AstraZeneca among those 55 and younger does not impact the vaccination schedule in the age-based vaccination program.

Pfizer and BioNTech plans to move up delivery of five million doses of their mRNA vaccine to Canada in June. The first shipments of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine are set to arrive at the end of April. It is not yet known how many doses are in the first shipment nor how many of those doses will be allocated to B.C.

chchan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/cherylchan

— with files from Postmedia News and Canadian Press

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