Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. Tam says new information on COVID-19 and variants prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to suddenly cancel its planned update on who should get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a technical briefing on the COVID pandemic in Canada, Friday, January 15, 2021 in Ottawa. Tam says new information on COVID-19 and variants prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to suddenly cancel its planned update on who should get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

AstraZeneca advice from national panel delayed by new data on COVID-19 and variants

NACI is made up of vaccine experts who volunteer to make non-binding advice on how vaccines should be used

Canada’s chief public health officer says new information on COVID-19 and variants prompted the National Advisory Committee on Immunization to suddenly cancel its planned announcement on who should get the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

NACI was minutes away Tuesday afternoon from providing an update to its advice that AstraZeneca shouldn’t be given to people under the age of 55 but the planned briefing was called off. That cancellation came even as five provinces had already decided to lower the age limit as doses of the vaccine sat in freezers and cases of COVID-19 soared.

The cancellation immediately led to concern from some Canadians that NACI knew something they didn’t about the vaccine’s safety.

Not so, said Dr. Theresa Tam, who is not part of the committee but interacts with them as the country’s top public health doctor.

Tam said Wednesday the panel believed some new data on the virus and its variants of concern, and the effect they were having on severe outcomes, had to be taken into account. She said that information came from the provinces and territories and she doesn’t know if the new data will change the advice NACI had been set to deliver.

“Just to reassure everyone that it is because they received some new data that they thought was pertinent in terms of analyzing the impact of the COVID-19 on the population in light of variants of concern, and not because of any changes in the data already existing for the thrombosis disorder itself,” Tam said.

NACI said on March 29 that the vaccine should be used only in Canadians at least 55 years old as regulatory bodies in Europe and Canada studied data on a small number of people who developed a rare blood clotting disorder after being given a dose of AstraZeneca.

The thinking at the time was that early data showed more of the people getting the clots were under the age of 55 and that COVID-19 posed a much higher risk to people over 55, therefore getting vaccinated was even more critical to that age group.

A week later, European and British regulators both said the vaccine was safe and very effective, even though it did appear the vaccine could be causing a new syndrome — now called vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia, or VIPIT — in a very small number of people.

The syndrome is caused by an immune reaction that affects the blood platelets, leading to clots in the brain and digestive system.

There were reports at the time of 222 people getting VIPIT out of 34 million shots.

VIDEO: ‘Extremely, extremely rare’ blood clots ‘may be linked’ to AstraZeneca, Health Canada says

Health Canada said last week its review of the data came to the same conclusion. Canada has had three confirmed cases of VIPIT — one woman in her 30s in New Brunswick, a man in his 60s in Alberta and a woman over the age of 55 in Quebec. All three are recovering at home.

As of April 10, almost 710,000 doses had been given in Canada. That includes 488,038 doses from a shipment of 500,000 made at the Serum Institute of India, and 221,484 doses from a supply of 1.5 million from the United States.

Canada has received 2.3 million doses of AstraZeneca overall, and expects to get at least 23.6 million by the end of September.

Tam couldn’t say when NACI would come out with updated advice, but she said the provinces that jumped ahead of those recommendations did so using information provided to them at a meeting with NACI over the weekend.

“So they do have the analysis at hand as they were making their decisions that you have seen announced over the last few days,” she said.

All provinces agreed to follow the NACI recommendation in March, even though the advice was not binding.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario this week stepped away from it, offering AstraZeneca to people at least 40 years old. Quebec chose to offer it to people who are at least 45. The Atlantic provinces, where the COVID-19 pandemic is under control, have not changed their age limit at this point.

NACI is made up of vaccine experts who volunteer their time to make non-binding advice on how vaccines should be used in Canada. The group of 14 doctors, public health policy experts and infectious disease scientists develop their guidance based on a consensus view of available scientific data.

While Health Canada authorizes vaccines based on their risks and benefits, NACI’s role is then to look at the authorized vaccines and recommend how they are used, such as who should get them first.

Provinces get to decide whether to follow the advice.

Several European countries continue to limit the use of AstraZeneca to individuals older than 55 or 60, including Italy, Germany and France, while Denmark and Norway are no longer using it at all.

The United Kingdom recommended it not be given to people under 30 or to pregnant women.

READ MORE: B.C. to open up AstraZeneca vaccines for all people 40+, set up clinics in hot spots

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirusvaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Stock photo.
Grand Forks drug trafficker to be sentenced in Castlegar

Ryan Plotnikoff pleaded guilty to trafficking meth, following his November 2020 arrest by Grand Forks RCMP

Stuart Ashley Jones, 56, was at Grand Forks provincial court for sentencing on May 5, 2021. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks man shot by police during peak freshet sentenced to house arrest

Stuart Ashley Jones was shot by a Grand Forks Mountie after ramming two police cruisers in May 2018

Accused drug trafficker to plead to federal, provincial charges in June

Matthew Straume said he’d missed his last court date because he was ill

Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Grand Forks sex crimes trial adjourned until summer

The trial was set to begin at the city courthouse Wednesday, May 5

Photo: Kathleen Saylors
Grand Forks city council votes down motion to support Penticton in paramountcy battle

Coun. Neil Krog insisted Penticton’s issue with Victoria is about city bylaws, not homelessness

Thursday, Feb. 4: RDKB Chief Engineer Darryl Funk hoists a banner commemorating last year’s championship season by the Bantam House Bruins. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Bantam Bruins honoured at hair-raising banner ceremony at Grand Forks’ Jack Goddard Arena

Asst. coach Mike Tollis said he reluctantly gave in to the team’s victory wish that he cut his pony tale

Junior A team Coquitlam Express is offering all Tri-City residents who get vaccinated against COVID-19 a free ticket to one of their games. (Facebook/Coquitlam Express)
B.C. hockey team offering free tickets to hometown fans who get the COVID-19 vaccine

‘We know the only way to get fans back is people getting vaccinated,’ says Express’ general manager Tali Campbell

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s latest COVID-19 restrictions cost thousands of service jobs

Part-time workers set back again by spike in virus spread

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

A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
A sign indicating face coverings are required by the establishment is pictured on the front door of a business in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. COVID-19 cases have been on a steady increase in the province of British Columbia over the past week. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Leaked report shows detailed B.C. COVID-19 data not being released to public

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun show cases broken down by neighbourhoods

Abbotsford school board trustee Phil Anderson has stepped down after sharing an offensive image on Facebook. (File photo)
Abbotsford trustee temporarily steps down after sharing post relating COVID masks to slavery

Phil Anderson to receive training to better understand provincial mask mandate after posting picture

B.C. announced the launch of an app May 7 that connects youth struggling with mental health and substance use with “life-saving” social services. (Screen grab)
5 years in the making: Mental health app for youth and children launches in B.C.

The province provided $1.6-million to fund a virtual care platform

Amazon has announced the creation of five new facilities in B.C., to employ about 2,000 people. (Amazon/Special to Black Press Media)
Amazon adds new facilities in Langley, Pitt Meadows, Delta, Vancouver

The Vancouver port centre will be the first Amazon centre to feature robotics in B.C.

Mahitha Mohan is working in Nelson as a community support worker at Community Connections Support Services. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Immigration pilot targets hard-to-fill jobs in West Kootenay

Program helps newcomers get permanent residency status in rural areas

Most Read