A day after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) declared that COVID-19 viral vector vaccines like those offered by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are not the “preferred” products, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said sought to reassure Canadians today that all vaccines approved for use in this country are safe and effective.
Speaking to reporters during a COVID-19 briefing today, Trudeau said Canadians should have no qualms about receiving a dose of the AstraZeneca product.
As Canada is in the midst of a third wave of the pandemic, Trudeau said it was prudent for people to be offered the first vaccine to help reduce the number of cases and hospitalizations.
“Make sure you get the shot when it’s your turn. We continue to recommend that everyone get vaccinated as quickly as possible so we can get through this, ”Trudeau said.
“The impacts of the COVID capture are much greater and much more deadly, as we have seen across the country, than the potential side effects. Let me remind everyone that every vaccine given in Canada is safe and effective, as evaluated by Health Canada.
WATCH | Trudeau, doctors say all approved vaccines are safe:
Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, each received a dose of the AstraZeneca product at an Ottawa pharmacy late last month. He said today that he has no regrets.
NACI, an independent body made up of volunteer experts, said on Monday that Canadians who are less likely to contract COVID-19 might want to wait until an mRNA injection from Pfizer or Moderna is available because these products do not present not the same risk of very rare, but serious, blood clots.
“What we’ve always said is that mRNA vaccines are the vaccine of choice,” said Dr. Shelley Deeks, NACI Vice President.
She said the suggestion that some people might want to wait for another vaccine came after NACI received more information about the possibility of developing vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) – low platelet count associated with clots blood.
Based on current data, NACI estimates that VITT occurs at a rate of 1 in 100,000 strokes rather than the 1 in 250,000 previously projected.
“Viral vector vaccines are very effective vaccines, but there is a safety signal, a safety risk, and the problem with the safety signal is that, although it is very rare, it is very serious, so individuals must have an informed choice, ”Deeks mentioned.
“When we first made recommendations for COVID vaccines in Canada, we didn’t know the vaccine safety signal. Now there has been a vaccine safety signal and we have changed the recommendations.
WATCH: NACI says Pfizer and Moderna COVID vaccines are preferred type
Dr. Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada, said today that she can “sympathize with people who find it difficult to keep up with the advancement of advice” – given that health officials public have been saying for weeks that Canadians should go for the first product available to them.
She said Canadians should do a risk-benefit analysis before rolling up their sleeves for a shot.
In areas where COVID-19 is endemic, such as Alberta and Ontario, it makes sense to go with the vaccine available immediately, she said, because the risk of contracting the virus is high.
In places, like Prince Edward Island, where transmission rates are lower, Canadians might want to wait for another option, she said. She added that Canadians should follow guidelines issued by local public health officials.
Tam said it was not unusual for recommendations to change – especially at a time when rapidly developed vaccines are being widely deployed to defeat a pandemic that has already killed millions of people around the world.
“NACI takes into account the data that we collect in real time and evolves the advice based on that,” she said. “As the benefits and risks are assessed, these parameters can change over time.
Tam said that while the current guidelines are for AstraZeneca beneficiaries to get a second dose of the same product, the NACI is looking at research on mixing AstraZeneca with an mRNA injection.
“There will be more guidance to come on this second dose based on scientific developments,” Tam said. “There will be further clarification and guidance before individuals receive their second dose and we should be watching this space.”
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner, the party’s health critic, today criticized what she called the government’s “failed” approach to communicating with Canadians about vaccine safety.
The Alberta MP accused the government of sending “mixed messages”, with some officials saying Canadians should get the first available dose, while NACI suggests some may want to wait for a specific product.
“What Canadians need is clear, concise and consistent communications about vaccine use. The Conservatives have been calling for it for weeks. The responsibility rests with the Minister of Health. It must immediately resolve the problem of its creation. Lives are at stake, “Rempel Garner said of Health Minister Patty Hajdu.
Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Moderna is expected to deliver one million doses of its product this week, days ahead of schedule.
Pfizer is already on track to deliver over two million snapshots per week this month. This means that more than three million mRNA injections will be introduced into provincial vaccination campaigns this week.
Moderna deliveries have been inconsistent since this vaccination effort began. Deliveries have been reduced or delayed as Moderna – which had no track record until 2020 of producing anything on this scale – struggled to ramp up production in the face of insatiable global demand.
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Anand said there could be more certainty about the progress of those shipments as the company sorts through bottlenecks at its European facilities. “Moderna worked with our department to consolidate a more regular schedule,” she said.
When asked if Canada would require proof of vaccination from international travelers as vaccines become more readily available in the coming months, Trudeau said the government is now working on new rules.
“As people start to travel again, maybe this summer, if all goes well, it would make sense for us to align ourselves with partners around the world on some sort of proof of vaccination or vaccine certification,” he said. Trudeau said.
“We are examining it very carefully and hope to align ourselves with the allied countries.”