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APH top doctor says weigh up risks and benefits of AstraZeneca vaccine

Says blood clotting is rare; more doses expected at Sault, Algoma pharmacies
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Algoma Public Health. Darren Taylor/SooToday

“The idea here is for people to balance the risks and the benefits of the vaccine.”

That from Dr. Jennifer Loo, Algoma Public Health (APH) medical officer of health and CEO, addressing the APH board at its regular monthly meeting held virtually Wednesday evening.

Loo was referring specifically to concerns that have been raised regarding the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been known to cause blood clots in some who have received it, according to medical reports and news reports from around the world.

Loo acknowledged the AstraZeneca vaccine can lead to blood clots and “it can be quite a severe phenomenon, but it is quite rare, more rare than one in 100,000.”

“We know the side effect is rare and that the chance of contracting COVID, depending on your community, may be higher, so at this point in time we do recommend to individuals that if they have the opportunity for immunization, they take it,” Loo said.

Loo recommended anyone with a particular health condition speak to their primary health care provider to see which vaccine (Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca) is right for them.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is available in the Sault and Algoma district.

Three pharmacies have been brought on board to deliver the AstraZeneca vaccine in the area (Rome’s and the west end Pharmasave location in Sault Ste. Marie as well as Shoppers Drug Mart in Elliot Lake).

The province intends to eventually have all pharmacies which normally administer flu shots deliver COVID-19 vaccines, Loo said.

Currently, the AstraZeneca cupboard is bare in the Sault and Algoma district.

“Once the next shipment of AstraZeneca arrives, there should be more opportunity to receive that product. At this point in time I think, throughout Algoma, we’re just about out. We have completely exhausted all of our allocation,” Loo informed the board.     

“The AstraZeneca vaccine is not one of the mRNA vaccines, it’s what’s called a viral vector vaccine,” Loo said.

The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are mRNA vaccines, making proteins to protect against a COVID-19 infection, whereas the AstraZeneca vaccine (and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine), being a viral vector vaccine, makes antibodies to protect against the virus.

“It’s a different type, but it is quite effective and right now the National Advisory Committee for Immunization has recommended that people 30 and above may take this vaccine if they don’t want to wait for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and they’ve had a discussion of the benefits and risks,” Loo said.

“The most important thing is that it is a very effective vaccine. It got the UK out of their giant wave, which we are currently experiencing. It is very effective at averting death, hospitalization and severe disease as a vaccine product.”

Meanwhile, Loo expressed her enthusiasm for immunization numbers in the Sault and Algoma.

“At the time of writing, those stats (in her monthly report to the board) are current, and I will say as of this moment, based on the immunization tracker, there are over 37,600 doses administered, so that means 34,000 people in Algoma have received at least one dose of immunization.”

APH numbers show, as of April 19:

  • 31.5 per cent of eligible adults 16 and over, or 26.7 per cent of the entire Algoma population, has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine 
  • About 82 per cent of Algoma adults 80 and over have received at least one dose of vaccine 
  • About 80 per cent of Algoma adults 75 to 79 have received at least one dose of vaccine 
  • An estimated 95 per cent of Algoma long term care residents are fully immunized with two doses 
  • An estimated 84 per cent of Algoma long term care staff have received at least one dose of vaccine

“That’s very good and we will continue to make progress,” Loo said.

Loo reminded the board that hot spot areas (such as the GTA) are being given priority as far as vaccine rollout is concerned.

“We are not a hot spot...it means that we will progress based on our ongoing allocations per population. We won’t be receiving any additional injections of vaccine but we will just continue to roll with these priority groups.”

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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