Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines at the Junction Chemist during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines at the Junction Chemist during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Impatience, lack of clarity as clock ticks on AstraZeneca expiry date

Rare, fatal blood clots have led several provinces to stop giving the COVID-19 shot

Impatience and a lack of clarity persisted Thursday over the fate of thousands of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine set to expire in the coming weeks but answers could be coming within days.

Several provinces have stopped giving the COVID-19 shot over concerns of rare, fatal blood clots. Health authorities were still trying to decide whether to resume its use and if using a different vaccine for second shots makes sense.

At the same time, Ottawa has been distributing hundreds of thousands of AstraZeneca doses to the provinces, some of which are sitting on soon-to-expire stockpiles. Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo said vaccine wastage was largely an issue for the provinces to sort out.

Justin Bates, head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said an announcement that had been expected on Thursday would now likely happen in the coming days. The association, he said, was in confidential discussions with the province about using the AstraZeneca, something he said should be done.

“Absolutely. We have a shared objective with the ministry to ensure that we use, wherever appropriate and feasible, all of the AstraZeneca remaining doses.”

Ontario is banking on a steady increase in vaccinations for its three-phased reopening to start, tentatively in mid-June. Health Minister Christine Elliott indicated on Thursday the province was leaning toward using AstraZeneca for second doses.

“We are waiting for the final recommendations (from experts) on what we should do with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Elliott said. “Data from the U.K. indicate that any problems with the second shot are far less.”

Quebec, which on Thursday said it just received 148,000 doses from the federal government, has stopped using the vaccine for a first shot. The province did say the new shipment would likely be reserved for second doses for people aged 45 and older but it was not clear when that would happen.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer in Alberta, said the province had about 7,000 doses, expiring at the end of June.

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said earlier this week the vaccines would not go to waste but Ontario, which has about 31,000 unused doses, is up against a May 31 expiry date. Similarly, Manitoba has also reported having about 7,000 AstraZeneca doses that need to be used before month’s end.

“Provinces and territories are weighing their options very closely in terms of second doses for those people who have received AstraZeneca for a first dose,” Hajdu said.

Bates said it would take a concerted effort to get the shots in arms, if approved, before expiry involving reaching out patients to schedule an appointment. They would also need to provide informed consent around dosage intervals and relative risks, which he said were far outweighed by the potential benefits.

“We’re just waiting for direction,” Bates said. “We can move quickly.”

More than 2.1 million people have had AstraZeneca. Health authorities said there were about two-dozen confirmed cases of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT, the rare but serious blood-clotting disorder.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization, known as NACI, was still awaiting data from a study on giving a so-called mRNA vaccine as a second dose for AstraZeneca.

Njoo said advice on whether provinces can mix and match vaccine brands should be ready in the first week of June.

It was up to the provinces to decide whether to offer a second dose of AstraZeneca, an mRNA, or a choice between the two. Preliminary results from the U.K. study on mixing and matching were promising, he said.

“It bodes well for individuals who have received the first dose of AstraZeneca having that choice, and at the end of the day it comes down to making an informed decision,” he said.

Brig. Gen. Krista Brodie, in charge of the federal distribution program, said Health Canada would destroy any expired doses.

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, an internal medicine specialist in Toronto, said this week people should be able to choose whether to get AstraZeneca, either as a first or second dose, or wait for another brand known as an mRNA vaccine. They might have good reasons to choose AstraZeneca for one or both shots, he said.

-Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press, with files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter in Toronto and Catherine Levesque and Mia Rabson in Ottawa.

RELATED: B.C. man required emergency surgery after AstraZeneca vaccination

RELATED: Experts call on Canada to use COVAX doses of AstraZeneca or give them back

Coronavirusvaccines

Just Posted

Hundreds gathered at Surrey’s Holland Park Friday (June 11) in memory of the Muslim family killed in London, Ont. on Sunday (June 6). (Photo: Shane MacKichan)
Educating public ‘exhausting,’ says White Rock Muslim Association past president

Asad Syed says public needs to be more vocal in their condemnation

People were lined up around the fields at a drop-in vaccine clinic at Newton Athletic Park on Tuesday (April 27, 2021), which is one of the high-transmission neighbourhoods that are being given vaccine priority. This clinic was one of at least three to open in the city on Tuesday. (Photo: Lauren Collins)
Surrey’s weekly cases continue to drop, push for 80% vaccination rate citywide

BCCDC reports 263 cases for Surrey the week of May 30 to June 5

The City of White Rock turns 63 today. (file photo)
City of White Rock 2020 annual report available for review

Report to be discussed at June 28 council meeting

Police tape is shown in Toronto Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Statistics Canada says the country's crime rate ticked up again in 2018, for a fourth year in a row, though it was still lower than it was a decade ago. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CRIME STOPPERS: ‘Most wanted’ for the week of June 13

Crime Stoppers’ weekly list based on information provided by police investigators

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read