Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Jose Marchand prepares Pfizer COVID-19 vaccination doses at a mobile clinic for members of First Nations and their partners, in Montreal, Friday, April 30, 2021. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization is coming under fire after contradicting the advice Canadians have been receiving for weeks to take the first vaccine against COVID-19 that they’re offered. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Trudeau says he is glad he got AstraZeneca, vaccines are only way out of pandemic

‘The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you’

Amid a flurry of fear and frustration over new advice from Canada’s national vaccine advisers, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians Tuesday if they want this pandemic to end, they still need to get vaccinated as soon as they can.

“The most important thing is to get vaccinated with the first vaccine offered to you,” he said in question period. “It is how we get through this.”

That is the same advice federal and provincial health officials have been giving Canadians since the first vaccines were approved in December. But it is in direct contrast to advice given Monday by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

NACI said the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are “preferred” because they don’t carry the remote risk of a new blood-clotting syndrome.

The 16-member panel of doctors and other vaccine experts said that Canadians who aren’t at high risk of COVID-19 may choose to turn down the offer of Oxford-AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson and wait until they can get an mRNA vaccine.

They came to that conclusion after looking at a risk-benefit analysis comparing the likelihood of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia or VITT, which is currently believed to be between one in 100,000 and one in 250,000, and the risk of COVID-19 among different age groups and different levels of the virus.

Seven cases of VITT have been confirmed in Canada out of 1.7 million people who received AstraZeneca. One of the cases was fatal.

NACI said Canadians under 30 shouldn’t be offered AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson at all, because their potential risk of contracting VITT outweighs their risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

NACI’s advice did not land well among some politicians or medical professionals this week.

New Brunswick Education Minister Dominic Cardy lumped NACI in with “anti-maskers” who are undermining the pandemic response.

“If a vaccine is approved by Public Health Canada … take that shot,” he said. “Ignore NACI, ignore anti-maskers, ignore the people undermining faith in science and do your part for New Brunswick.”

The Canadian Pharmacists Association, whose members are handling the injections of AstraZeneca in much of Canada, said NACI’s words were “disappointing” and could fuel vaccine hesitancy.

“I’m worried,” said Phil Emberley, the association’s acting director of professional affairs. “We need to get a lot of Canadians immunized in order to get over this pandemic.”

Emergency physician Dr. Brian Goldman said on Twitter Canadians should not be “choosy” about which vaccine they get.

“It pains me to say this but it’s past time to take NACI’s recommendations with a grain of salt,” he said.

Nova Scotia chief medical officer Dr. Robert Strang, however, sided with NACI.

“All our vaccines are good vaccines but the reality is the mRNA vaccines are better vaccines,” he said.

Neither Trudeau nor Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam would directly acknowledge the contradiction in advice, prompting Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole to accuse Trudeau of just adding to the confusion.

“For months Canadians have been told to get the first vaccine available to them,” O’Toole said. “Today, the prime minister refused to confirm that advice on 10 different occasions.”

Trudeau, who received AstraZeneca himself April 23, said he doesn’t regret it. Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who also received it last month, said the same thing.

Tam said she understands that people may be frustrated or angry about changing advice but she said recommendations evolve as science changes. She said there are different risk-benefit conclusions based on individual and community situations.

“But again, I’ll reiterate from our chief medical officers that the AstraZeneca vaccine deployed in the middle of a third wave has saved lives and prevented serious illnesses,” she said.

Some of the debate may not matter much because the shipments of mRNA vaccines vastly outweigh expected shipments of AstraZeneca or J&J.

Pfizer is sending 20 million doses by the end of June, including two million this week. Moderna is to ship another 8.5 million to 10.5 million, including a shipment of one million doses that will arrive Wednesday, a week ahead of schedule.

Comparatively, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Tuesday there are only deliveries of about 1.6 million doses of AstraZeneca expected, though negotiations to get additional doses from a U.S. supply of that vaccine are ongoing.

There are no shipments of J&J even tentatively scheduled.

The first 300,000 doses of J&J arrived last week but are on hold because they were partly made at a Maryland facility with numerous safety violations. Health Canada is trying to verify the doses meet required standards.

By the end of September, Canada expects to get 44 million Moderna, 48 million Pfizer, approximately 24 million AstraZeneca and 10 million J&J.

Emberley said he’s also worried NACI’s advice will make Canadians who already received AstraZeneca afraid to get their second dose.

There are studies underway about mixing two different vaccines, with the first results expected later this month. Tam said Tuesday NACI will give advice on that before the second doses of AstraZeneca are due for the first people who got it.

On the current four-month schedule in Canada, that would be in July.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Just Posted

A tent housing a mobile vaccination clinic. (Interior Health/Contributed)
Over 5K jabbed at Interior Health mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinics

The clinics have made stops in more than 40 communities since launching last week

The pilot of this single-engine propeller plane was unhurt after crash-landing in a Como Road orchard Friday, June 18. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Plane crash lands into Grand Forks orchard, pilot injured

RCMP have secured the crash site, pending investigation by Transport Canada

Author John Vaillant joins Lisa Moore and Fred Wah for Elephant Mountain Literary Festival’s Alumni Reading on Friday, July 9. All three authors were featured at the inaugural festival in 2012. Photo: Submitted
FESTIVAL TALES: When 2012 meets 2021

The Elephant Mountain Literary Festival will include authors from the event’s inaugural year

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interior Health COVID-19 cases falling slower than the rest of B.C.

More than a third of provincial cases announced Thursday came from the Interior

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Seth Rogan’s vibrant orange sculpture was sold for $7,000 above Vancouver Art Gallery’s initial estimation at auction Tuesday. June 15. (Heffel Fine Arts)
Vase made by Seth Rogen sells for $12,000 at Vancouver auction

The B.C.-born comedian has a new pot habit, and it’s one that’s paying off

BC Lions running back John White IV (3) runs with the ball during first quarter CFL football action against the Ottawa Redblacks in Ottawa on Saturday, September 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
BC Lions file trademark for new logo

Canadian Football League team files for new design on June 1

The remains of the Mid-Island Co-op in Whiskey Creek along the Alberni Highway on Friday, June 18, after a blaze the day before devastated the gas station. (Michael Briones photo)
VIDEO: Camper van explosion burns Vancouver Island gas station to the ground

Nine fire departments responded to the incident, no injuries reported

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Montreal Police logo is seen in Montreal on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Some Quebec politicians are calling for an investigation after a video was released that appears to show a Montreal police officer with his leg on a young Black man’s neck during an arrest. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Probe called for after video appearing to show Montreal officer’s knee on Black youth’s neck

Politicians call for investigation after clip evokes memories of George Floyd incident

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. The website for a Broadway theatre showing "Springsteen on Broadway" said it would only allow guests "fully vaccinated with an FDA-approved vaccine" — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
No Springsteen for you: AstraZeneca not good enough to qualify for Broadway ticket

Victoria area mayor among those unable to attend New York entertainment due to COVID-19 restriction

The BC Ferries’ website is down for the second time in one week from what they say is likely an overwhelming increase in web traffic. (Black Press Media file photo)
Surging web traffic crashes BC Ferries’ site again

Website down for second time this week

John Furlong told the Vancouver Board of Trade on Feb. 20, 2020 that he thinks the city could and should bid for the 2030 Winter Games. (CP photo)
PODCAST: John Furlong lays out a ‘provincial’ B.C. plan to host the 2030 Winter Olympics

Podcast: Chat includes potential role for Vancouver Island communities

Most Read