Manitoba is pausing use of the controversial AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 55.
Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recommended that it not be given to people under the age of 55.
“Despite the findings that there was no increased risk of blood clots overall related to AstraZeneca in Europe, a rare, but very serious side effect has been seen, primarily in young women, in Europe,” explained Dr. Joss Reimer, head of Manitoba’s vaccine implementation task force.
“So out of an abundance of caution Manitoba will be recommending that these vaccines only be used in people who are 55 and older at this time.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine has previously been available to Manitobans under 64 and has been distributed mainly through medical clinics and pharmacies.
Reimer said the change — which will still the vaccine made available for those between 55 and 64 — will begin “effectively immediately.”
The side effect, a serious blood clot, shows up four to 20 days after the vaccine, said Reimer.
She said the side effects can mirror the symptoms of a stroke or a heart attack, and anyone who has already received the AstraZeneca vaccine who experiences severe symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
“I want to be clear that to date, we have not seen any of these cases in Manitoba, nor in Canada,” Reimer said.
Manitoba has so far received 18,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and Reimer said as of Monday, roughly 14,000 shots have been administered.
Anyone under the age of 55 who was expecting to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine will be called to cancel their appointment, Reimer said.
Health Canada last week added a blood clot warning for the vaccine.
Reimer said the change is not expected to have a significant effect on the timeline for vaccine distribution at this time.
“This is a pause while we wait for more information to better understand what we are seeing in Europe,” she said
On Monday Manitoba reduced the age eligibility for those able to get vaccinated at super sites or pop-ups to include Manitobans aged 64 or older and First Nation people aged 44 or older.
Since December 173,548 doses of vaccine have been administered in Manitoba, including 118,605 first doses and 54,943 second doses, the province says.
UK variant becoming dominant strain: Roussin
The vaccine news comes as health officials say 136 new cases of COVID-19 variants of concern have been identified across the province.
The latest cases, found after previously announced infections were screened and sequenced for the variant, more than double the number of variants reported in Manitoba since February, bringing that number to 259.
Five of the new variants of concern were found in the Interlake–Eastern health region, 14 were reported in from the Southern Health–Santé Sud health region, and 117 are from the Winnipeg health region, health officials said.
Manitoba’s total number confirmed cases of variants of concern include 116 cases of the B.1.1.7 strain, first identified in the United Kingdom, 14 cases of the B.1.351 strain, first identified in South Africa, and 129 that health officials say have not been categorized.
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, said the B.1.1.7 variant is slowly becoming the dominate strain in Manitoba.
He said one day last week, a full one-third of all cases screened for the variant came back positive.
“It’s a concern, we know that B.1.1.7 variant is much more infectious and lots of evidence suggesting it’s more severe; more hospitalizations, longer hospitalizations, younger people being admitted,” Roussin said, adding most of the new variant cases were linked to household contacts but there is also community.
“We really are in that race against these variants of concern and the rollout of our vaccine.”
Roussin said Manitoba is likely to see more variant cases reported each day, partly because the province’s screening is so precise, health officials won’t wait for sequencing to report them.
Meanwhile the province said 53 new cases of COVID-19 have been identified across the province as of Monday morning.
The latest cases include 21 cases in the Winnipeg Health region, one case in the Southern Health region, two cases in the Prairie Mountain Health region, 27 cases in the Northern Health region, and two cases in the Interlake-Eastern Health region.
The provincial test-positivity rate is at 4.2 per cent, while Winnipeg is 3.3 per cent.
Provincial data also shows there are 1,177 active cases and 31,864 people who have recovered from COVID-19 in Manitoba.
There are now 149 people in hospital as a result of novel coronavirus and 27 patients in ICU connected to the virus, according to provincial data.
An outbreak has been declared at St. Amant Health and Transition Services in Winnipeg and a previously declared outbreak at at Extendicare Tuxedo Villa in Winnipeg is over, health officials said.
Since last March, Manitoba has recorded 33,975 cases of COVID-19.
The province’s death toll remains at 934 with no new fatalities reported Monday.
–With files from The Canadian Press
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