A health-care worker holds up a vial of the AstraZeneca Covishield vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal, Thursday, March 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

New guidelines coming on Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as PEI suspends use

CHARLOTTETOWN — Health Canada is set to issue new recommendations on the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Canada’s Health Minister said Monday, as Prince Edward Island suspended its use of the shot for those aged 18 to 29.

Patty Hajdu confirmed the federal Health Department and Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization would provide an update later Monday.

She told a videoconference that Canada is closely monitoring investigations into possible adverse effects linked to the vaccine that are taking place in several jurisdictions.

“I can tell you that there will be updated messaging from Health Canada and NACI regarding onward use of AstraZeneca and who it might be appropriate for,” she said.

Prince Edward Island health officials said in a brief statement the vaccination appointments are on hold pending the updated information from Health Canada and the vaccine committee.

The province announced this month that it would designate its supply of AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged 18 to 29 who work in gas stations and convenience or grocery stores. The move was a response to COVID-19 outbreaks on the Island that were concentrated among young people.

The province said it had received 2,000 doses of the vaccine and they had been distributed to pharmacies across the province to give to the young workers.

The news is the latest setback for a vaccine that has been plagued by questions over its preliminary trial data in the United States, confusion over whether it is safe for seniors and reports that it is linked to blood clots in a small number of people.

It comes as Canada is expected to receive 1.5 million doses of the vaccine from the United States on Tuesday.

Canadian health officials first recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for those under 65, but on March 16 they adjusted their advice to say that it could also be given to seniors.

Several European countries suspended the use of the vaccine as a precautionary measure earlier this month amid concern that its use could be linked to blood clots in a few patients, although many countries have resumed its use after the European Medicines Agency said it was safe

Health Canada updated its product label for AstraZeneca to warn about blood clotting last week but said reports of those events were nonexistent in Canada and very rare elsewhere.

The label warning followed reports from Europe that the vaccine might cause a rare type of blood clot in the brain in a very small number of patients.

Health Canada’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Supriya Sharma, said on March 25 that she agreed with European health authorities that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh any potential risks, and that all four vaccines approved for use in Canada are considered safe.

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