New Brunswick is joining a growing list of Canadian provinces to pause the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for first doses.
During a news briefing Thursday afternoon, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said New Brunswick will, however, be accepting 13,500 doses of AstraZeneca next week and will be using it for second doses.
It will also be an option for people 55 and older who are homebound and cannot access other vaccines because they cannot be transported to homes. This is only done with the informed consent of the person.
Two additional cases of vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT), the rare blood clot connected with AstraZeneca, have been confirmed in the province — for a total of four cases.
The new cases are both in their fifties and received their vaccinations in mid-April. They developed symptoms of the blood clot 11 and 19 days after vaccination. One of the patients is currently in hospital for treatment.
Last week, the province announced one person in their 60s died as a result of the blood clot.
Russell says she realizes that New Brunswick’s approach with AstraZeneca may differ slightly from other provinces, but points out the vaccine has been approved by Health Canada and is being used around the world — specifically in the U.K., which has used it almost exclusively.
She notes that the global frequency of VITT remains low and has been estimated at about one case in 55,000 to one case in 100,000 doses of vaccine.
“There are risks with this product but there are also benefits when it is used properly,” she said.
“In our judgement, we really must employ every tool at our disposal.”
Russell says discussions are ongoing at the national level about mixing vaccine brands.
Earlier in the day, Quebec announced it will no longer use the vaccine as a first dose. On Wednesday, Nova Scotia made the same decision.
Ontario, Alberta, and Saskatchewan have also stopped using the product.
The province is reporting 16 new cases of COVID-19, one of which involves someone isolating outside of the province.
Ten of the new cases are in Zone 3 (Fredericton region), three of which are under investigation.
Two positive cases have been confirmed at Leo Hayes High School and one case has been confirmed at Nashwaaksis Middle School — both in Fredericton. As well, a possible exposure to a case was identified at nearby New Maryland Elementary School in New Maryland.
Russell says she is currently concerned with the Fredericton region, where the B.1.617 variant first identified in India has been circulating.
She adds she is concerned about Zone 1 (Moncton region), where the variant first identified in the U.K. known as B.1.1.7 is circulating.
In Fredericton, Horizon Health has declared an outbreak at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital (DECRH), Stan Cassidy Centre for Rehabilitation and Veterans Health Unit.
They will be restricting visitation at the facilities, and postponing all non-urgent surgeries and outpatient appointments until further notice. As well, non-urgent appointments, including blood and specimen collection, X-ray imaging, and respiratory therapy will be postponed.
“These measures are being put in place because an employee at the DECRH tested positive for a COVID-19 variant of concern today, Thursday, May 13. The employee is self-isolating, but there has been a high-risk of exposure in recent days,” Horizon Health Network President Karen McGrath said in a statement.
Vaccination goal on track
Meanwhile, Russell and Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy, who was also at Thursday’s news briefing, say the province is on track to give a first dose to every eligible New Brunswicker by Canada Day.
Cardy announced they are opening up vaccination booking to another cohort — and people aged 30 and above are now eligible.
Even so, Russell stressed maximum protection is not achieved until about two weeks after the second dose, and warned people to continue taking precautions.
“COVID-19 is still with us and those vaccinated must remain on guard against this disease,” she said.
More to come