Canadian officials recommend pausing AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 55
TORONTO - A panel of scientists in Canada on Monday recommended against the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people 55 and younger, citing "substantial uncertainty" over its benefits for that age group because of "rare" cases of serious blood clots reported in Europe.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization cast the guidance as a "precautionary measure" to be taken while the incidents, primarily reported in women under 55, are investigated further. It said the rate at which the clotting occurs is not known "with certainty."
No vaccine-related clotting has been reported in Canada.
The panel's recommendations are nonbinding, but Canada's 13 provinces and territories, which are responsible for administering the vaccines, had decided to adopt a "unified position" and suspend the vaccine's use in that demographic, Howard Njoo, the country's deputy chief public health officer, told reporters in Ottawa.
Supriya Sharma, chief medical adviser to regulator Health Canada, said it would issue "additional terms and conditions" on the authorization of the vaccine, including a requirement that AstraZeneca conduct "a detailed assessment of the benefits and risks of the vaccine by age and sex in the Canadian context."
Health Canada approved the vaccine for all ages in late February. Days later, the panel recommended against its use in those 65 and older because of "limited" data on its efficacy in that age group. Weeks later, the panel reversed itself, citing the results of studies in Britain.
"This vaccine has had all the ups and downs. It looks like a roller coaster," Caroline Quach-Thanh, chair of the panel, told reporters. "The problem is because they are evolving, we are evolving our recommendations."
The change in guidance comes after trust in the vaccine was shaken in Europe. Several countries there temporarily halted its use this month while Europe's medical regulator conducted a review. It concluded on March 18 that AstraZeneca's vaccine was "safe and effective," though it said it could not rule out a link to the rare blood clots.
The announcement also comes as infectious-disease experts warn that parts of Canada are experiencing a third wave of the pandemic. The country's vaccine rollout is the second-slowest among Group of Seven countries.
Canada has received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India's Serum Institute. An additional 1.5 million doses were due to arrive this week from the United States.