Expert says Canadians should put AstraZeneca European suspensions in context

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – The number of European countries choosing to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over potential blood clot fears continues to grow.

Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands are the latest nations to join Iceland, Norway, and Demark to stop administering the AstraZeneca vaccine for the time being as they investigate concerns.

However, it doesn’t appear Canada will stop using the drug just yet, with the country’s health agency continuing to point out the supply we have is not one of the batches under scrutiny.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also assured Canadians on Monday the vaccine was safe.

“Health Canada and our experts and scientists have spent an awful lot of time making sure every vaccine approved in Canada is both safe and effective,” he said. “Therefore, the best vaccine for you to take is the very first one that is offered to you. That is how we get through this as quickly as possible and as safely as possible.”

The issue has come up since a small number of people in Norway suffered serious blood clotting after getting AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

While infectious diseases specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch says watching the situation is reasonable, he notes context is important.

“There were a few cases of what sounded like blood clots in a few European settings and the thought was there may be an association to the AstraZeneca vaccine. Now it’s not entirely clear what the actual association is at this time and what are the number of events that have been reported, but of course, like anything else, you can’t sweep anything under the rug. If there’s any reports of a potential adverse event, it’s got to be investigated and it’s got to be taken seriously,” he explained.

“But you also have to put it in the appropriate context as well. There literally have been tens and tens of millions of doses of this vaccine administered in multiple countries and this is now only the first we’re hearing about it,” Bogoch added.

While Canadian officials also say there’s no scientific evidence to support the link between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and potential clots, Health Canada notes the batches we have in this country are not under investigation.

Bogoch stands by this, saying the doses Canada is receiving aren’t coming from the same place European countries are getting theirs from.

“I think it’s fair that this is watched very carefully, but we have to time stamp all our conversations. At this point in time, we don’t really need to pivot and change course,” he told NEWS 1130. “I think it’s important to watch this closely and pivot if necessary, but currently I don’t think we need to do that now.”

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Canada currently has four vaccines that are approved for emergency use here: the ones made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca.

In late February, Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine as well as a shot developed in India, which was produced in partnership with the aforementioned pharmaceutical company. Health Canada technically considers them two separate vaccines, which is why some reports suggest there are five vaccines approved in Canada so far.

For anyone who has concerns about taking the AstraZeneca shot, Bogoch says people should look to how many vaccines have already been administered.

“The way I see it, there truly have been tens and tens of millions of this vaccine administered and we haven’t really seen a signal amongst the noise for this issue in many places. We’ve only just recently heard about it in a couple of places. So I would say, you know, it’s not entirely clear if there’s an association,” he explained. “It’s not entirely clear if there’s an association [between the vaccine and blood clots] and if there is an association — which is a big ‘if’ — it’s probably a very, very, very rare association.”

-With files from The Associated Press

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