Pharmacists association ‘disappointed,’ worried NACI advice will stoke COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy

A medical worker prepares a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, on March 18, 2021.

YVES HERMAN/Reuters

The Canadian Pharmacists Association says advice from a national panel on vaccines is unhelpful and likely to make it harder to get enough people in the country vaccinated to end the pandemic.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization set off a firestorm of fear and anger Monday after saying mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are “preferred” because viral-vector vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson carry a remote risk of blood clots.

NACI, a panel of physicians and other vaccine experts, provided non-binding advice to provinces that the viral-vector vaccines should only be used on people over the age of 30, who are at higher risk of getting COVID-19.

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The advice flies in the face of the long-standing recommendation from federal and provincial public health officials that Canadians should take the first vaccine they are offered.

Phil Emberley, a veteran pharmacist and acting director of professional affairs for the national pharmacists group, says he is “disappointed” with NACI’s statements and is worried the advice will make more Canadians hesitate to get vaccinated.

“I’m worried,” he said. “We need to get a lot of Canadians immunized in order to get over this pandemic. We really need Canadians to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.”

He says when you weigh the risks that come with COVID-19 against the risks of any of the vaccines Canada has authorized, preventing the virus is always the better choice.

Emberley says he got the AstraZeneca vaccine himself three weeks ago and has no regrets.

“Based on everything I know right now I would not make a different decision,” he said.

He said he’s also worried that this will make Canadians who already got AstraZeneca afraid to get their second dose. Of the 1.7 million people who did receive it as of April 24, only a few thousand got their second dose so far.

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Some doctors took to social media to denounce NACI’s latest advice, warning that the committee is sowing confusion and exacerbating vaccine hesitancy.

“It pains me to say this but it’s past time to take NACI’s recommendations with a grain of salt,” emergency physician Dr. Brian Goldman said on Twitter.

“For the good of your health, DO NOT be choosy when it comes to #covidvaccines. Take the first one you’re offered.”

Conservative MPs said the government needs to fix the communications disaster NACI has become.

“What Canadians need is clear, concise, and constant communications when it comes to vaccine use,” health critic Michelle Rempel Garner and procurement critic Pierre Paul-Hus said in a joint written statement.

The Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines have been linked to a new and extremely rare blood-clotting syndrome.

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The risk of the new blood-clotting syndrome, known as vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT, is estimated to be anywhere from one case in 100,000 doses given, to one in 250,000. But the syndrome is so new, there is still little known about what the real risk is, why it is happening and who might be most likely to develop clots.

Seven cases have been reported to date in Canada, all in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine. Approximately 1.7 million people have received at least one dose of in Canada as of April 24.

As of April 23, 17 cases of VITT had been confirmed out of more than eight-million doses of the J&J vaccine administered in the United States.

Canada’s first shipment of 300,000 doses of J&J’s vaccine are on hold pending a quality control check. Health Canada discovered the drug substance in them was made at a Maryland manufacturing plant cited by the United States for numerous safety and quality control violations.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo says more than 80 per cent of Canadians over the age of 70 have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Njoo says this is higher uptake than for the flu vaccine and is hopeful it will help give confidence to people for all vaccines. The Canadian Press

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References

  1. ^ Coronavirus Update newsletter (www.theglobeandmail.com)