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

Just Posted

A grant from the Okanagan Basin Water Board has allowed the historic O’Keefe Ranch in Spallumcheen to construct and complete its rain gardens project. (O’Keefe Ranch photo)
Spallumcheen ranch protects ecosystem with water grant

Historic O’Keefe Ranch receives $20,000 to construct and complete rain gardens project

Michelle Jacobs receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Coast Capri Hotel on April 28, 2021. The pop-up clinic was hosted by the First Nations Health Authority. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
126 new cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health over the weekend

There are 22 individuals hospitalized due to the virus, and 13 in intensive care

(File photo)
Repeated cougar sighting on Okanagan Rail Trail

Plenty of bear sightings around the valley too

Vernon local Ryan Lazar – who specializes in 2D background design and 3D animation – is ready to start his career after a tough yet rewarding two years of studies. (Contributed)
Okanagan College students get animated at graduation

‘The pandemic has resulted in more video consumption and the animation industry is so hot right now because of it’

An e-scooter and a car bumper make for a narrow passthrough on a sidewalk out front of the Kelowna Law Courts on Wednesday, April 28. (Michael Rodriguez/Black Press)
E-scooters ready to roll in Vernon

Final bylaw changes in place to allow personal use and for companies to operate a rental program

WildSafeBC is reminding residents to keep manage wildlife attractants on their property. (WildSafeBC Central Okanagan)
WildSafeBC reminds residents to manage attractants as bears spotted in Okanagan

The most prominent reminder is to keep garbage secured indoors until collection day

Barriere RCMP nabbed two suspects who were allegedly breaking into cabins in McLure. (File photo)
Thieves nabbed by Barriere Mounties during McLure break-ins

Police Service Dog Kody instrumental in making the arrest

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the province’s COVID-19 vaccine program, May 10, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays below 500 a day over weekend

14 more deaths, down to 350 in hospital as of Monday

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Royal Bay Secondary School’s rainbow crosswalk was vandalized shortly after being painted but by Monday, coincidentally the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the crosswalk had been cleaned up and students had surrounded it with chalk messages of support and celebration. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
B.C. high’s school’s pride crosswalk restored following ‘hateful’ graffiti attack

Hate terms, racial slur, phallic images spray-painted at Greater Victoria high school

RCMP vest
Penticton beach brawl results in one arrest but no charges

People took to social media after a fight broke out at the fire pits at Okanagan Lake Saturday

Terrance Mack would have celebrated his 34th birthday on May 13, 2021. Mack’s family has identified him as the victim of a homicide in an apartment on Third Avenue in Port Alberni sometime in April. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)
Family identifies Ucluelet man as victim of Vancouver Island homicide

Terrance Mack being remembered as ‘kind, gentle’ man

A single motorcycle parked outside of the Kelowna Hells Angels clubhouse at 837 Ellis Street on July 9, 2020. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna Hells Angels prospect sentenced to 9 months in jail for aggravated assault

Colin Michael Bayley pleaded guilty to the downtown Kelowna assault earlier this month

Most Read