Thirty-somethings are booking shots of Oxford-AstraZeneca through pharmacies in Greater Victoria this week, as Ontario paused first doses of the vaccine, citing a rare vaccine-induced blood clot, and Alberta ran out of its supply.
Vikram Bawa, owner of Fort Royal Pharmacy, received 400 doses for his Hillside and Oak Bay Avenue locations and said he’s already down to almost half that.
“It’s been really really busy,” said Bawa. All doses will be administered by Saturday.
On Tuesday, Ontario said it will stop giving out first doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for now, due to what it said is a one in 60,000 risk of a rare blood-clotting syndrome called vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT.
That province’s top doctor said the decision was made out of “an abundance of caution.” Dr. David Williams stressed that those who have received AstraZeneca so far made the right decision, based on the advice available at the time.
Eight people in Ontario have developed the rare blood clot. One case has been reported in B.C. — the woman in her 40s was treated and is being monitored.
Ontario’s move comes hours after Alberta said it won’t give out more first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the time being, because there aren’t any confirmed shipments coming.
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.
The B.C. Centre for Disease Control website says 476 doses of AstraZeneca were administered in Island Health from May 7 to May 10, and more than 18,000 first doses have been administered in total.
The vaccine was first offered to people ages 55 to 65, then made available to those 40 and older in April.
B.C. Premier John Horgan and his wife, Ellie Horgan, had a first shot of AstraZeneca, and the premier said he has no concerns about the vaccine.
“I fully expect to get a second shot when I’m advised that I’m ready to go, and I know my spouse feels the same way,” said Horgan on Tuesday, during a media availability.
“Countless numbers of British Columbians have benefited from the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
The province reported 515 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including 20 in Island Health. Of 6,020 active cases, 426 are in hospital, including 141 in intensive care. Two additional deaths reported on Tuesday bring the total to 1,624.
Those who took the AstraZeneca vaccine when it was offered helped speed administering of the province’s age-based and essential-worker program, which uses Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, health officials have said.
Bawa’s pharmacies began administering the new doses of AstraZeneca on Sunday, starting with 65 doses, and it’s been steady since, he said, with news spreading by word of mouth, websites and social media.
“I’m trying to make my community safe — that’s the goal,” said Bawa. “It’s a duty to the local people.”
Pharmacists receive a dispensing fee from the government for administering the vaccine, but don’t charge for the dose itself.
People are booking the vaccines by email and phone, he said, noting his pharmacies will have delivered more than 1,000 doses by the end of Saturday.
Bawa said he can’t understand the controversy around the vaccine, given what is a minute chance of blood clots compared to the natural occurrence of such clots and the much higher risk associated with common products such as contraceptives and tobacco.
As for Alberta no longer administering AstraZeneca, Horgan said the province, like B.C., may have a lot of Pfizer coming in at the moment.
“Our view is that those decisions are best made by public health officials,” said Horgan.
Unless provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Penny Ballem, who is leading the immunization rollout, advise otherwise, “we’ll continue with the programs that we have in place,” the premier said.
B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province is expecting 274,950 doses of Pfizer this week, a similar amount next week, 141,300 more doses of Moderna after May 20, and 273,780 doses of Pfizer starting May 24. Forty thousand doses of Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine have not arrived as scheduled, pending Health Canada approval.
Through it’s Get Vaccinated website and phone number, B.C. is booking vaccine appointments for people age 40 and older and those 18-plus in areas considered hotspots, none of which are on the Island.
Dix said the province is targeting vaccine where it’s needed most — where people are most vulnerable or in areas of high transmission. “That means our action may not always be smooth,” Dix said. “At times, it may be awkward and cause inconvenience, but this is a pandemic. It’s a new road for all of us. We must travel it at speed. What matters is the intent to make people safe with care and compassion, whatever it takes.”
Just over 2.2 million vaccine doses have been administered in B.C., 110,516 of which are second doses. Vaccinations are going up and hospitalizations are trending down, said Dix.
— With files from Canadian Press
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