The National Advisory Committee on Immunization now recommends provinces give the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to adults 30 years of age and older if they do not want to wait for an alternative.
“At this time, and based on current evidence, NACI recommends that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine may be offered to individuals 30 years of age and older, without contraindications, if the individual does not wish to wait for an mRNA vaccine, and the benefits outweigh the risks,” said Dr. Shelley Deeks, NACI vice-chair.
NACI previously recommended that the vaccine only be given to adults 55 years of age and older, despite the fact Health Canada has authorized its use in Canadians aged 18 and over.
Although provinces initially paused giving AstraZeneca shots to younger people based on the committee’s advice, some have since started administering it to people over 40, given the current spread of the virus.
More than 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered in Canada to date and Health Canada has said the benefits outweigh the risks.
The announcement comes on the heels of Ontario confirming its first case of rare blood clotting – vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT – linked to the vaccine, along with cases in Quebec, Alberta and New Brunswick.
NACI says those are the only four cases they are currently aware of in Canada, adding the blood clots are rare, and people have an individual choice if they would rather wait to take the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.
Those vaccines use messenger RNA, or mRNA, to trigger an immune response, unlike AstraZeneca, which is a viral-vector vaccine that delivers a safe virus to teach the body to protect against COVID-19.
“What we want is to vaccinate Canadians as quickly as possible. However, if you are in an area where there is no COVID transmission, if you have no contacts with the outside, or if you’re able to shelter through public health measures, then there is a possibility to wait for the mRNA vaccine,” said advisory chair Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh.
Ontario health officials say while they welcome the updated recommendation from NACI, they will not be lowering the age limit in the province for the time being.
“With approximately 337,000 doses remaining and future shipments not expected until May, we will continue to administer AstraZeneca to individuals 40 and over in pharmacies and primary care settings until we receive additional supply,” Ministry of Health spokesperson Alexandra Hilkene said in a statement.
Procurement Minister Anita Anand provided an update Friday about how many more vaccine doses are coming to Canada, which didn’t include AstraZeneca, although talks continue with the United States about possibly receiving some of their supply.
She said the country can expect to receive around one million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech early next week and 650,000 doses of Moderna by mid-week.
Towards the end of next week, Anand said they expect to get the first shipment of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson product in 300,000 doses, which will be sent to provinces and territories the following week.