The Ontario government has reported the first fatal case of an extremely rare blood clot that has been detected in a small number of residents who received the AstraZeneca/COVISHEILD COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, made the announcement during a news conference at Queen’s Park Tuesday afternoon.
She said a man in his 40s developed vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) after receiving his first dose of the vaccine at the end of April and died a few weeks later.
“While the investigation is ongoing and a final cause of death has yet to be officially determined, it has been confirmed the official did have VITT at the time of his death,” Yaffe told reporters.
She said residents who had the AstraZeneca vaccine “should feel very confident” in their decision to get the shot.
“The risks associated with this vaccine are rare, but they are real,” Yaffe said, encouraging people with questions to contact their medical providers.
To date, more than a million people in Ontario have received the AstraZeneca vaccine and Yaffe said there have been 13 confirmed cases of VITT.
The news came just days after the Ontario government announced residents who received the first doses would be allowed to have their second dose with informed consent, citing new data that indicated the benefits of the vaccine far outweighed the risk with second doses. Friday’s decision came following a temporary suspension in the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the province.
It was on May 11 when Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, made the decision to temporarily suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine out of an abundance of caution because of increased instances of VITT.
He also said the decision was made, in part, because of an “increased and reliable” supply of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines and a continued downward trend in COVID-19 cases.
Williams noted data from the U.K. suggests there is much lower risk of blood clots in second doses of AstraZeneca.
Dr. Jessica Hopkins, the chief health protection and emergency preparedness officer for Public Health Ontario, said officials “picked up a safety signal” when it comes to a slight uptick in cases of VITT.
“The vaccine safety system is really working in Ontario and Canada,” she said on May 11, reiterating the side effects are rare.
“This is out of an abundance of precaution.”
Hopkins said with COVID-19 cases declining and a slight per capita increase in instances of VITT, the safety signal warranted a temporary pause. She said there is currently a one-in-60,000 chance of having some sort of side effect, up from a one-in-100,000 chance.
Meanwhile, those who received their first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in mid-March have been prioritized to receive a second dose.