Manitoba to limit 1st dose appointments of AstraZeneca

The province is pausing administration of first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for most Manitobans in light of supply issues and recent news about the vaccine.

First doses of the vaccine can still be administered at doctors’ offices and pharmacies, but only in cases where individuals might not otherwise be immunized with other vaccines at alternative sites, the province said in a news release.

Manitobans 40 and up are eligible for AstraZeneca, as are those 30 and up with select priority health conditions.

For the most part, future AstraZeneca shots will be earmarked for Manitobans who have already received a first dose of that vaccine. Those people can expect to start booking second dose appointments in June.

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the task force, said she understands why the public might have questions about the latest update, given how many incremental changes there have been in guidance on AstraZeneca.

“With all this information, I want to make one thing very clear: over the last two months when we have been giving AstraZeneca, it has protected many tens of thousands of Manitobans who would not have otherwise had that protection,” Reimer said during a Wednesday news conference, lauding those who got the shot as soon as they became eligible.

“You did the right thing. You provided yourself and your families with protection as early as you possibly could, so we thank you.”

The decision won’t impact Manitoba’s immunization timelines, the release said. As of Wednesday, the province projects everyone 12 and up will have their first dose shots done by June 6-9.

WATCH | Manitoba stands by AstraZeneca amid new eligibility restrictions, Reimer says:

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, on Wednesday commended those who got their first shot of AstraZeneca. She said the vaccine remains safe and effective, and its benefits outweigh any rare risks associated with the vaccine. 3:53

The news comes on the same day Manitoba expanded vaccine eligibility to all adults.

Several provinces hit pause

Three provinces this week decided to suspend their AstraZeneca campaigns or reserve future doses for those who received that shot as a first dose.

Alberta and Saskatchewan cited supply chain issues in deciding to pause AstraZeneca. Meanwhile, Ontario suggested it’s beginning to see an uptick in rare but serious blood clots associated with that vaccine known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT).

Out of about 2.3 million doses of AstraZeneca administed in Canada, there’s been about a dozen confirmed cases of VITT as of early this week, the Public Health Agency of Canada says.

Reimer said globally, the odds of VITT post-AstraZeneca are estimated to be somewhere in the range of 1 in 100,000, and the condition is treatable.

An Oxford study of more than half a million people suggested people are eight to 10 times more likely to get a blood clot as a result of COVID-19 infection than because of any vaccine.

Manitoba health officials, including Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin earlier this week, continue to say the vaccine is a safe option and the protection it confers against COVID-19 outweighs any risk of blood clots.

Mix and match vaccines

Reimer also said Wednesday Manitoba could begin mixing and matching vaccine varieties if clinical data from trials elsewhere support the move. Data from one trial is expected this month and may inform Manitoba’s campaign, she said.

Canadian health officials are reviewing data on this now, but some scientists say there’s reason to believe mixing and matching could boost a person’s immune response beyond what’s possible with receiving the same shot twice.

Currently AstraZeneca makes up a small portion of vaccines received by the province, with 84,260 doses shipped to the province to date.

About 75,000 of those have gone into Manitobans’ arms, and over 7,000 doses remain unused, Botha said.

Manitoba is expecting another shipment, possibly next week, totalling over 23,000 doses, he said.

Under current supply forcasts from the federal government, Manitoba will not get enough to ensure everyone who received a first dose of AstraZeneca will get it again as a second dose, he said.

It’s been given out in doctors’ offices and pharmacies, something that wasn’t initially possible with other vaccines because of extreme cold storage and transportation requirements.

Manitoba is, however, running a new pilot that will have some doctors and pharmacists provide Moderna vaccines.

To make an appointment at a supersite or pop-up clinic, where Pfizer and Moderna are administered, use the province’s online booking portal, or call 1-844-626-8222.

Reimer repeated that the evidence is clear: Manitobans who got AstraZeneca for their first dose did the right thing.

“We stand by the same statement that we’ve made previously,” Reimer said. 

“There is no change in [Manitoba’s] clinical guidance: we remain confident that AstraZeneca is a safe and effective vaccine.”