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

Kenny Podmore, here seen at Sidney’s cenotaph in November, says he feels for the veterans after organizers had to cancel an event acknowledging Victory in Europe (VE) Day for the second time in as many years because of COVID-19. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
North Saanich event marking 75th anniversary of VE-Day cancelled

Sidney resident first planned event for May 9, 2020 moved to May 8 before being cancelled

Individuals and businesses are encouraged to bring their unwanted electronics to Tillicum Centre May 14 to be shredded, recycled or donated. (Black Press Media file photo)
Greater Victoria residents can shred, donate electronics safely

Vancouver Island Better Business Bureau hosts event May 14 at Tillicum Centre

Penelope the cat showed up safe and sound at her owner’s porch after an unusual trip through the news cycle in recent weeks. (Photo courtesy of Reuniting Owners with Animals Missing)
Penelope, cat and friend of the Victoria HarbourCats, returns home safe

The cat had an after an unusual trip through the news cycle in recent weeks

Work is progressing on the new student housing building at the University of Victoria. The building will be home to 398 students when complete in September 2022. (Photo courtesy of UVic)
VIDEO: Mass timber installation begins at UVic student housing project

Green technology plays key role in building that will be home to 398 University of Victoria students

Stanley Fischer (right) died while in a Victoria police jail cell hours after he was arrested on Nov. 15, 1981. Forty years later, his family is questioning his cause of death. (Photo courtesy of Mark Fischer)
Family wants investigation into man’s 1981 death while in Victoria police custody

Stanley Fischer’s death was ruled a suicide after he was found hanging in his jail cell

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

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
B.C. to start releasing neighbourhood-specific COVID numbers after data leak

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

Ladysmith RCMP safely escorted the black bear to the woods near Ladysmith Cemetary. (Town of Ladysmith/Facebook photo)
Black bear tranquillized, relocated after wandering around residential Ladysmith

A juvenile black bear was spotted near 2nd Avenue earlier Friday morning

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix update B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count creeps up, seven more deaths

445 people in hospital, 157 in intensive care

Summerland’s positive test rate is much higher than surrounding local health areas, according to internal BC CDC documents. (BC CDC)
Summerland 3rd behind Surrey, Abbotsford in daily per capita COVID-19 cases

Interior Health is rolling out additional vaccine availability to the community

Amazon is pausing its Prime Day marketing event in Canada this year amid ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at its facilities in Ontario. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Amazon Prime Day halted in Canada due to COVID-19 outbreaks in warehouses

The event was postponed to protect the health and safety of employees and customers, the company says

At this Highway 3 check point, police officers will be asking for identification from drivers, documentation regarding the driver’s name and address, and the purpose for the driver’s travel. (RCMP)
No fines handed out at 1st COVID-19 roadblock as checks move across B.C.

Cpl. Chris Manseau says a total of 127 vehicles were stopped at a roadblock in the Manning Park area

A spectator looks on as the Olympic Caldron is relit in downtown Vancouver, Wednesday, February 12, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Small majority of B.C. residents in favour of a Vancouver 2030 Olympic bid: survey

A new survey shows a split over the possibility of public money being spent to organize and host the winter games

Most Read