AstraZeneca vaccine 1st dose recipients in limbo after some provinces press pause

Click to play video: 'Ontario joins Alberta in halting first doses of AstraZeneca vaccine'
Ontario joins Alberta in halting first doses of AstraZeneca vaccine
WATCH: Ontario joins Alberta in halting first doses of AstraZeneca vaccine – May 11, 2021

Getting the first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine last month has been a liberating experience for Ontario resident Ryan Olson.

The 41-year-old web developer from St. Catharines, Ont., went out grocery shopping for the first time in eight months last week.

“I felt like I was alive again and it was the most relieving feeling I’ve probably had in my 41 years of life.”

But Olson, who is HIV positive, is now uncertain about when his second shot will come and which one it will be.

The Ontario government announced on Tuesday that it was pressing pause on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a first dose in the province due to safety- and supply-related issues.

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As of May 8, approximately 853,885 Astrazeneca doses had been administered in Ontario. Some 49,280 doses are remaining and an additional 254,500 will be delivered next week to be used as second shots.

Click to play video: 'Ontario waiting on determination from NACI, Health Canada on 2nd AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot: Elliott'
Ontario waiting on determination from NACI, Health Canada on 2nd AstraZeneca COVID-19 shot: Elliott

Ontario’s decision came after the Alberta government also said Tuesday it was going to stop providing first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine due to obscurity over future supply, not safety.

Meanwhile, Manitoba said Wednesday it plans to offer first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine only to those who might not be immunized at other sites.

Alberta senior Paddie Walmsley, who got her first dose of AstraZeneca back in March and is awaiting the second one along with her husband, is now wondering if she’s “back to square one.”

“Are we going to have to start with Pfizer or Moderna?” the 60-year-old asked.

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“That’s … where my concern is, just where we’re going to go from here because of the supply and because of the concerns with it,” said Walmsley, who lives in Coaldale, a town about 230 km south of Calgary.

Given the sheer volume of mRNA vaccines funneling into the country, Alberta says it will use its remaining 8,400 AstraZeneca doses as second shots — rather than add to the list of first-dose recipients waiting for a second.

“Alberta has administered approximately 255,000 first doses of AstraZeneca and about 2,200 second doses to date,” Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan told Global News in a statement Wednesday.

Walmsley is worried there won’t be enough doses to go around for the second round of vaccinations.

“The math doesn’t work out that they’re even going to have enough for the second dose of AstraZeneca,” she told Global News.

“So that’s a big concern as we’d like to get back to … a sense of normalcy.”

Click to play video: 'Should you be concerned about already taking the AstraZeneca vaccine? Doctor answers your COVID-19 questions'
Should you be concerned about already taking the AstraZeneca vaccine? Doctor answers your COVID-19 questions

Mixing vaccine doses

In light of uncertain future supply, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday it’s likely that recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine may receive a different shot for their second dose.

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Quebec has also said that it plans to mix vaccines due to supply shortages, substituting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for the Moderna vaccines in order to quickly give booster shots to long-term care residents.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said Tuesday that no decision had been made on whether Albertans who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine will be able to receive an mRNA vaccine for their second dose.

So far, there is no guidance in Canada or anywhere else in the world about mixing vaccine doses.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who got his first dose along with his wife Sophie on April 23, said Wednesday he plans to get the second shot of AstraZeneca in “the coming weeks or months” as recommended by his doctor.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau, wife Sophie receive AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine'
Trudeau, wife Sophie receive AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Meanwhile, changing guidance on the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Canada continues to raise concerns, even as the country ramps up its vaccination program with an influx of supplies.

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Last week, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) said that the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna were “preferred” over the AstraZeneca or the Johnson & Johnson shots.

According to updated guidelines, NACI is recommending that the AstraZeneca and J&J may be offered to individuals 30 years of age and older without contraindications “if the individual prefers an earlier vaccine rather than wait for an mRNA vaccine.”

Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto, said he was most concerned about “how confusing the messaging has been” from public health officials.

“The obvious question hanging in the air is what do I do?” said Bowman, who received his first dose of AstraZeneca in the middle of March.

Click to play video: 'Hitting pause on the AstraZeneca vaccine'
Hitting pause on the AstraZeneca vaccine

As of May 1, more than 1.5 million people in Canada had received at least one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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Bowman said he and hundreds of thousands of other Canadians who are waiting for their second dose were in a similar boat of uncertainty.

“I don’t know what will be recommended and I don’t know what my choices are going to be.”

It’s not clear when the pause on the use of first shots could be lifted, but Ontario officials said there would be advice coming “in the very near future” for those who have already had a dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Officials in Alberta were also keeping a close eye on clinical trials led by Oxford University in the United Kingdom to test the safety and efficacy of mixing different shots.

For Olson, he says it does not matter which brand of vaccine he gets next for his second dose as long as he is not made to wait for an extended period of time.

“To me, if you have a Moderna or a Pfizer needle waiting for me, put it in my arm,” he said.

“I need to know I’m protected.”

— With files from Global News’ Nick Westoll, Rachael D’Amore, and The Canadian Press

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