Quebec’s health minister apologized on Thursday after the government appeared to change its advice regarding second doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
A message on the province’s website Wednesday said people who received a first shot of AstraZeneca “should” get Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna for their second doses because the vaccine combination is more effective than two shots of the same vaccine.
Christian Dubé told reporters Thursday that the message was a “communication error” stemming from a misinterpretation of advice from the province’s immunization committee.
“I apologize to the population,” he said. “Our position on AstraZeneca is clear: it’s an excellent vaccine and those who want to get it for a second dose can do so.”
As of Thursday at noon, the language on the site had been changed to say that AstraZeneca recipients “could” get a different vaccine for their second dose.
Dubé said the choice of whether to opt for a different second dose remains a personal one, based on weighing the slightly higher efficacy of a mixed vaccine regimen with the potential for more severe side-effects.
The minister said he’d personally chosen to receive two doses of AstraZeneca.
In a press release Thursday afternoon, the province’s public health director reiterated that receiving two AstraZeneca doses was still considered a “safe and valid” choice. “All the vaccines offered in Quebec have unequivocally demonstrated their efficacy,” Dr. Horacio Arruda said.
The Quebec statement was issued as the National Advisory Committee on Immunization announced it is recommending people who got the AstraZeneca vaccine first should get Pfizer or Moderna for their second shot. The national guidance is based on growing evidence that a second dose of an mRNA vaccine produces a stronger immune response, and because of the low but serious risk of vaccine-induced blood clots associated with getting AstraZeneca.
The Quebec Health Department said that while the province’s immunization committee appears to believe Pfizer or Moderna are “preferable” as a second dose, two doses of AstraZeneca also offer strong protection. Only people who have experienced blood clots with low platelets following their first dose of AstraZeneca or who have a condition known as heparin-induced thrombocytopenia are specifically advised to get a different booster.
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Quebec reported 161 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, as well as one further death attributed to the novel coronavirus.
The province added 99,580 vaccine doses to its tally and more than seven million shots have been administered since the campaign began.
Dubé said the government would be forced to readjust its vaccine campaign for July after learning it will receive about 600,000 fewer Pfizer doses than expected.
He said the vaccine appointments already made will be honoured, but there won’t be any more spots available in the first half of the month for people hoping to move up the date for their second doses.
“It’s been a year and a half that we’ve been adjusting, so we’ll adjust again,” Dubé said. He said the province still expects to meet its target of vaccinating all willing eligible Quebecers with two doses by the end of August.
Currently, more than 79 per cent of the population 12 and older have received one dose and 14.8 per cent have received both doses.
Dubé was speaking alongside Finance Minister Eric Girard on Thursday, as they announced a $13 million investment into a project to boost local production of the active ingredients in medications.
Dubé said the Pfizer vaccine delivery delay is just one of many examples of how COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of the medical supply chain and the risk of being too dependent on external suppliers for vital medication.
The project, led by the Université de Montréal, aims to increase Quebec’s ability to produce key medicine ingredients at home as well as to support research into new drugs, which could eventually be produced in partnership with the manufacturing sector.