The man’s identity is not being released to protect patient confidentiality, but Alberta Health has reported he is receiving treatment and is recovering after being diagnosed with a case of vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“It’s my understanding that symptoms began in that 4-20 day window that we have indicated is that risk timing period, and that shortly after those symptoms began to develop, they did seek medical care,” Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Saturday afternoon.
Early this week, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and the Quebec health ministry reported the first case in Canada of a person getting a blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Hinshaw said statistics gathered from around the world indicate there is approximately one case of a blood clot for every 100,000 to 250,000 doses of vaccine administered.
“I continue to recommend AstraZeneca for anyone who is 55 and older, and to recommend that all Albertans get vaccinated as soon as they are able. It is the best way to protect your health and the health of those around you,” Hinshaw said.
“The Alberta case marks the second cases of VITT out of more than 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca or CoviSHIELD/AstraZeneca that have been administered in Canada to date. This does not change the risk assessment previously communicated to Albertans.”
Hinshaw noted Albertans 55 and older who are diagnosed with COVID-19 have a one in 200 chance of dying from the virus, and are “at least 1,500 times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than experiencing VITT after getting AstraZeneca.”
“If I were in this age category, I would get this vaccine,” she said. “AstraZeneca’s first dose reduces infection by 60-70 per cent and reduces hospitalizations by 80 per cent. As cases rise in Alberta, this vaccine provides significant benefit to those who receive it by offering a high level of protection against infection and severe outcomes from COVID-19.”
On April 7, the European Union’s drug regulator said it found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and a rare blood clotting disorder but recommended that vaccinations continue in adults, saying the benefits of the shot still outweigh risks.
The European Medicines Agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. It said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors.
“Heparin is a medication that’s used to both prevent and treat blood clots, but in some rare cases when a person gets that medication, it can sometimes trigger an immune response that causes platelets to clump together and can cause the same type of thing with blood clots and low platelets which can cause bleeding,” Hinshaw said.
“So it seems, for whatever reason, the AstraZeneca vaccine may cause that same kind of syndrome to happen.”
This vaccine is currently available to anyone in Alberta between the ages of 55 and 64 through pharmacies and online through AHS.
Starting on Saturday, Alberta began offering walk-in AstraZeneca vaccinations at 26 pharmacies in Edmonton and Calgary over a five-day period.
AHS also opened two walk-in AstraZeneca clinics at the existing rapid flow clinic at the Edmonton EXPO Centre and at the Southport clinic in Calgary on Saturday.
Calgary elementary teacher Melinda Pokoinski is one Albertan who is calling on the province to make the AstraZeneca vaccine more available.
Pokoinski said as a teacher, she should be able to get the shot right away if vaccines are available.
“I just think it’s too big of a risk for us to be out there longer. They are saying the sooner everybody gets vaccinated the better, so if there are people who want to get vaccinated, find a way to let them get vaccinated,” she said.
“I just want to get vaccinated. I want us to get back to normal. I want us not to worry about having this COVID ball hanging over our shoulder all the time.”
Calgary resident Sandy Anderson said she has already received her first vaccine. Standing outside the Southport walk-in clinic Saturday, which is offering the AstraZeneca vaccine for Albertans aged 55-64, Anderson said she would receive her second shot at the clinic if she was eligible.
“There’s all sorts of people out there that are at risk so open it up. Don’t say 55-plus; open it up wider (so) that people can start coming in and getting it,” Anderson said.
Hinshaw said there are discussions about opening up the AstraZeneca vaccine to more Albertans.
“We are having discussions with our advisory committee around the age range, particularly because the incidents of COVID-19 are increasing in Alberta,” she said.
“When we’re weighing the risks and benefits of any particular vaccine in Alberta, it’s important to look at the risk of being exposed to and affected by that particular virus in this case, so as the risk of exposure rises, the benefit the vaccine can provide also rise.
“We are having exactly those conversations to determine the best age group to be able to provide additional protection to more people, but decisions have not yet been finalized.”
Currently, 710 pharmacies continue to offer appointments for AstraZeneca vaccine and the Calgary rapid flow clinic at the Telus Convention Centre will continue to offer AstraZeneca by appointment.