Pharmacies see AstraZeneca cancellations as age-based program expands to 30 and under

Pharmacies in Greater Victoria are starting to see cancelled bookings for shots of ­Oxford-AstraZeneca, as a second B.C. case of a rare blood clot was reported and the province opened up its vaccine rollout to those 30 and older.

“To be honest there’s been more cancellations [than bookings] in the last 12 hours or so,” said Vikram Bawa, owner of ­Fort Royal Pharmacy in Oak Bay.

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As the province announced 587 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, it reported a second case of a rare blood-clotting syndrome called vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT, linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“This is a rare but very serious condition,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “We are following it carefully.”

A Fraser Health man in his 40s is being treated for VITT and is in stable condition. A woman in her 40s in the Vancouver Coastal health region was the first case in the province, reported last week.

About 227,000 first doses of AstraZeneca have been administered since the vaccine arrived in the province about two months ago, said B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix. In Canada, about 28 cases of VITT have been reported.

Henry noted that the risks of COVID-19 are much higher, and include serious illness, hospitalization and severe blood clots, though a different kind.

She said the risk of VITT appears to be much lower with the second dose. “We have seen a few cases, but it really is in the realm of one in a million right now, particularly in the U.K.,” she said, noting that could also be because fewer second doses have been delivered.

Late last week, Island pharmacies received thousands of doses of AstraZeneca and began booking appointments.

The B.C. Health Ministry said it shipped about 20,000 doses of AstraZeneca to pharmacies in Island Health and Interior Health in recent days. A remaining 15,000 doses are being reserved for second doses.

Then on Tuesday Ontario paused first doses of the ­vaccine, citing a one in 60,000 chance of vaccine-induced blood-clotting syndrome, and Alberta ran out of its supply.

On Wednesday, B.C. said given the limited availability of AstraZeneca, it was holding all remaining supplies for second doses.

“This is not about vaccine safety,” Henry said Thursday. “That is, of course, an important consideration but really it is about the operational response and the position we are in in B.C. right now and also in the context of the global supply.”

On Friday, vaccine bookings through the provincewide rollout will be open for people age 25 and older (born in 1996 or earlier), and by Sunday, those age 18 and older (born 2003 and earlier) will be able to book.

Henry said the province now has an abundance of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and is expecting more.

It’s incumbent on Canada to make sure it doesn’t take more AstraZeneca than is required, given worldwide need, said Henry, who expects people who received a first dose of AstraZeneca will have a choice of what vaccine they want as a second dose.

A pharmacy assistant at Cridge Family Pharmacy on Fort Street said it had also had cancellations of vaccination appointments on Thursday, but many of those spots were taken by walk-ins.

Bawa said he’s not sure whether the cancellations are the result of concern about blood clots, because the province’s age-based vaccination program is now allowing people age 30 and older to book, or because some people are booking appointments at multiple pharmacies to secure a spot.

Bawa suspects he’ll use up the rest of the 400 doses he received for his Hillside and Oak Bay Avenue locations by Saturday.

Information on the vaccination program for those ages 12 to 17 will be announced early next week, said Henry.

From Dec. 27, when first vaccinations began, until May 1, there were 79,480 cases of COVID-19, the vast majority of which were in unvaccinated people or people who had not yet worked up a full immune response.

Of those who had had their first dose of COVID vaccine at least three weeks earlier, 1,340 were infected, or 1.7 per cent. Of those who had second doses, 120 were infected.

Out of the 1,340 people, 141 were hospitalized, 13 ended up in intensive care, and there were 30 deaths. Age played a key factor in severe illness and death.

On Thursday, the province reported five additional deaths, for a total of 1,632.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

> To register for a vaccination, go online to gov.bc.ca/getvaccinated, or phone 1-833-838-2323

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