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B.C. hits pause on Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for those under the age of 55

B.C. is halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the next few days. Nicolas Armer/dpa via ZUMA Press

B.C.’s top doctor said Monday that the province will pause the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in those under the age of 55 “for the next few days” following a recommendation from federal health officials.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization on Monday recommended that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine not be administered to people under the age of 55 over concerns it may be linked to rare blood clots.

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Province health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said regulators have noted an adverse effect known as vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia (VIPIT).

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“What we do know is that this is very rare and it is unlikely we will see any cases here in British Columbia or in Canada,” Henry said.

She said B.C. will follow other jurisdictions and suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under age 55 as the province and Health Canada seek more information from AstraZeneca about the vaccine’s “risk-benefit profile.”

More information, Henry said, is expected in the next two to three days.

“We have other vaccine options and we will be using them,” Henry said.

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Read more: AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not recommended for those under 55, NACI says

B.C. Premier John Horgan said the AstraZeneca vaccine is not part of the province’s age-based vaccination program.

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“The Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine are coming in large amounts in the next number of weeks and we are very confident that we’ll continue with our exercise to make sure that age cohorts, the seniors that are so much at risk, get the vaccines that they want,” he said.

Henry has said B.C.’s supply of AstraZeneca vaccine gives the province the flexibility to target COVID-19 hot spots.

Last week, the province said it planned to use AstraZeneca doses to immunize school staff in Surrey, one of the regions in the province hardest hit by the pandemic.

On Monday, Surrey School District Supt. Jordan Tinney said school staff would now be receiving the Pfizer vaccine.

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Henry said British Columbians who received the AstraZeneca vaccine more than 20 days ago should have no concerns.

Anyone who received an AstraZeneca dose less than 20 days ago and is experiencing symptoms, such as headaches or swelling, can seek medical attention.

Read more: COVID: Sweeping new restrictions in place including in-person dining at B.C. bars and restaurants

On Monday, the province introduced new restrictions meant to curb a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Indoor dining will be prohibited, but takeout and patio service will be allowed as part of the new rules effective from midnight through April 19.

She is prohibiting indoor group fitness and closing the Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort, and announced new support for mask-wearing in schools for grades 4 through 12.

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Henry also reversed a recent decision to allow indoor faith gatherings, adding she is doing so with a heavy heart but can’t in good conscience allow them to proceed given the risk.

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B.C. recorded more than 2,500 cases in the last three days, which Horgan said is unacceptably high, and he urged those aged 20 to 39 years old to curb their activities to protect their parents and neighbours.

— With files from Richard Zussman and The Canadian Press

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