A vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen with injection supplies at a clinic in Winnipeg on March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

A vial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen with injection supplies at a clinic in Winnipeg on March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Health Canada confident AstraZeneca vaccine safe and effective against COVID-19

Quebec Premier François Legault warned some regions in that province to cut back on their in-person contacts

Health Canada is reassuring Canadians the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective, even as it works to add a warning about blood clots and reacts to a new controversy over the company’s preliminary data results in the United States.

The latest vaccine confusion comes as new daily cases of COVID-19 are up 15 per cent across Canada in the last week, prompting some provinces to prepare for new lockdowns or warn they’re coming if people aren’t more careful.

Saskatchewan is sending Regina and some surrounding municipalities back into a full lockdown, banning household guests immediately and putting a stop to indoor dining at restaurants and all other non-essential indoor activities on Sunday.

Regina reported 91 new cases Tuesday, driven by variants of concern.

Quebec Premier François Legault warned some regions in that province to cut back on their in-person contacts or risk new restrictions.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said tightening public health measures might be necessary again, particularly as hospitalizations and critical care patient loads are creeping back up.

“As vaccine delivery begins to ramp up at an accelerated pace, there are hopeful signs for better days ahead,” she said. “However, increasing case counts, a rising proportion of new variant cases and shifting severity trends are cause for continued caution.

In the last week, she said an average of 2,100 people were in hospital in Canada being treated for COVID-19 on any given day, including 580 in critical care. That compares to 2,040 in hospital and 550 in ICUs a week ago.

Canada’s vaccine program is accelerating, with more than two million doses expected this week. It’s the most in a single week so far and could get even bigger if 1.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine arrive from the United States.

But that vaccine is once again in a negative spotlight, this time over accusations within the United States that the company’s preliminary trial results reported Monday were misleading.

It is another blow for a vaccine that has now faced everything from a mistake in dosing during early trials, lower efficacy results than its main competitors, confusion about whether it is effective for seniors, and reports it might cause a rare type of blood clot in the brain in a very small number of patients.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma said the U.S. trial issue hasn’t affected Canada’s authorization, which was given Feb. 26 based on trials in the United Kingdom and Brazil.

Those trials showed the vaccine was 62 per cent effective against COVID-19 infections and entirely prevented hospitalizations and deaths.

Monday, the company reported preliminary results from a trial in the United States that appeared stronger, saying it was 79 per cent effective against infection. That report prompted the independent monitoring board overseeing the trial for the U.S. National Institutes of Health to accuse the company of reporting incomplete data to show a better result.

The board members said their analysis pegged the vaccine’s efficacy at between 69 per cent 74 per cent, and said the company’s decision to issue a press release with better results erodes public trust.

AstraZeneca said in a statement Monday’s preliminary report was accurate with data until Feb. 17, and that its analysis of more recent results are consistent with the preliminary report. It said it plans to issue its report on the updated data within 48 hours.

Sharma said it’s not unusual for companies to report preliminary data but said in this case the report came when the company was a lot closer than is typical to knowing what the final data shows. Still, she said, Canada approved the vaccine based on other trials and this doesn’t change those findings.

“At this point in time, we, of course, believe that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to outweigh the risks,” she said.

Health Canada expects to receive the U.S. trial data within the next few weeks and Sharma said it will be reviewed thoroughly and the findings communicated to Canadians.

Health Canada is working on adding a warning to the Canadian label on the vaccine because of the possible, though rare, risk of blood clots.

The European Medicines Agency added such a warning last week after reports that 38 people developed blood clots, out of almost 20 million people who were vaccinated.

The warning says the overall risk of blood clots is not heightened by the vaccine but it may cause a very rare blood clot in the brain. Scientists in Germany and Norway said they believe they have identified the cause as an extreme immune reaction, but said it is treatable and very rare.

Sharma said symptoms would include sudden, intense or persistent headaches, shortness of breath and pain or tenderness in the legs.

But she says there are concerns that this vaccine is suffering in public confidence.

“We’ve said this many times before, that even the most effective vaccine only works if people trust it and agree to receive it,” she said. “It’s like any other reputation — once there’s some doubt that creeps into that reputation, it’s that much more difficult to gain that back.”

More than 3.5 million people in Canada have received at least one dose of vaccine now, and most provinces expect to be able to offer a first dose to every adult by the end of June.

The most positive news on the Canadian COVID-19 front came out of Nunavut Tuesday, which declared itself to be COVID-19 free again, after a lengthy outbreak.

Health officials in British Columbia said Tuesday an accelerated timeline for its immunization plan would allow about 200,000 more people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to get their vaccine early.

Those with various forms of cancer, transplant recipients and severe respiratory conditions can start booking on Monday alongside the current age-based vaccine program.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

This photo shows crews the fire at 7987 Galbraith Cres. that caused extensive damage and displaced six residents early Sunday morning. (Central Saanich Fire/Department Twitter)
Central Saanich rallies around couple who lost home of 25 years

A GoFundMe campaign is currently underway for Carla and Brian Wallace

The government map (as of April 22) showing vaccine availability doesn’t have any Saanich Peninsula pharmacies listed, but the situation is fluid, and many readers have already registered. (Province of B.C. screenshot)
Vaccine availability a fluid situation for Saanich Peninsula

Government site may not show pharmacies, but registering still an option

Volunteers with the Esquimalt Farmers Market will be on hand at Bullen Field to direct attendees and clarify public health protocols. The market runs Thursdays now through Sept. 16, from 4:30-7:30 p.m. (Facebook/Esquimalt Farmers Market)
Esquimalt Farmers Market continues tonight at Bullen Field

Award-winning market features farm-fresh products, food trucks, COVID-19 protocols for safety

A member of the Belmont Secondary School in Langford has tested positive for COVID-19, the Sooke School District announced Thursday afternoon. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Positive COVID-19 case identified at Belmont Secondary School in Langford

Other school members could’ve been exposed on April 20

While Buccaneer Days public events are cancelled again, such as the annual parade, a home and business decorating contest will allow the spirit of the event to live on. (Facebook)
Esquimalt Buccaneer Days COVID-19 cannon fodder again

Annual celebration cancelled a second time, decorating contest full steam ahead

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

(Black Press Media file photo)
POLL: Have rising prices caused you to give up hope of buying a home?

Do you have a spare 50 grand or so kicking around (have… Continue reading

Anyone with information on any of these individuals is asked to call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit the website victoriacrimestoppers.ca for more information.
Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers wanted list for the week of April 20

Greater Victoria Crime Stoppers is seeking the public’s help in locating the… Continue reading

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

The conservation service confirmed they do not relocate cougars from settled areas but that euthanasia is not necessarily the fate for an animal in the Fanny Bay area. The hope is that the animal will move on to wild areas. (File photo)
Woman hopes cat-stalking Fanny Bay cougar can avoid euthanization

Conservation officers do not relocate the animals from Vancouver Island

Tofino residents expressed frustration over a recent post by Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett that falsely claimed all residents have been vaccinated. (Westerly file photo)
Resort owner apologizes for suggesting Tofino is safe to travel to

Long Beach Lodge owner Tim Hackett apologizes to community and visitors

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Most Read