More than 48 hours after appointments opened for the limited supply of AstraZeneca vaccine, spots are still available to Albertans – and one doctor said he is surprised by the low uptake.
The province is now offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to Albertans born in 1957 to 1960 and to First Nations, Metis and Inuit people born in 1972 to 1975. Vaccines were initially being made available to Albertans by year of birth, rolling one year at a time; on Thursday, the province announced it was opening appointments up to two additional years.
As of 2:30 p.m. on Friday, 41,704 Albertans had booked their AstraZeneca immunizations, according to AHS. Approximately 58,500 doses are available.
AHS tells Global News that there are approximately 215,000 Albertans eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine as of Friday; roughly 20 per cent of those eligible Albertans have signed up to be immunized with this particular vaccine.
Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s Pandemic Response Committee, said he is surprised there is AstraZeneca vaccine still available.
“I expected a faster uptake and that the supplies, I thought would be exhausted by the end of the week,” he said.
Gibney said opening up two more eligible years of birth for vaccination appointments suggests demand has been somewhat slower than expected.
In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health said eligibility was expanded based on expected available supply.
“Under our phased COVID-19 vaccine approach, additional eligibility will be announced as we determine the availability of supplies. We are heartened by the uptake, and encourage everyone to book an appointment for a vaccine, whichever type is offered, when they are eligible,” reads a statement from spokesperson Sherene Khaw.
Gibney said offering Albertans in this age group a choice of vaccine may have contributed to low demand. The province said those 50 to 64 years old could wait until later this year to receive the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine have efficacy rates of more than 90 per cent; the AstraZeneca vaccine has an efficacy rate of 62 per cent but doctors say it is safe to use and prevents against severe outcomes of COVID-19.
“By virtue of the choice, it suggests there is something significantly inferior with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is really not the case,” Gibney said.
“Individuals who have decided to wait, to a certain extent, place themselves at some risk.”
He said concerns about the vaccine in the media may also have played a role in interest. On Thursday, several European countries announced they were suspending AstraZeneca vaccinations after reports of blood clots in people who had been vaccinated.
“I want to assure everyone that the current doses of CoviShield AstraZeneca currently offered in Alberta have not been linked to these issues,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday afternoon.
Alberta is using CoviShield, the brand name of a vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India that is considered to be AstraZeneca’s equivalent by Health Canada, Hinshaw said.
She said it was important to note more than 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered in the U.K. with no indication blood clots have happened in those who’ve received the shot more often than in the general population.
-with files from Kirby Bourne