A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Alberta Health Services is running out of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that it had been making available to younger people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL

A vial of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. Alberta Health Services is running out of doses of a COVID-19 vaccine that it had been making available to younger people. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL

B.C.’s frontline worker vaccine program in flux as AstraZeneca use paused for under-55s

Issue caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine is called vaccine-induced pro-thrombotic immune thrombocytopenia

The future of the vaccine program for frontline workers, meant to run in tandem with B.C.’s age-based rollout, remains uncertain, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday (March 29).

The news came just after Canada’s federal immunization experts said they would be pausing use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under the age of 55.

“Over this past week, a signal was detected in younger people in Europe using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Henry said. “While the instances are rare, this is a very rare with tens of millions of doses of this vaccine being used, we are taking the precaution in suspending the use of this vaccine for people who are under age 55 for the next few days.”

The specific issue caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine is called vaccine-induced pro-thrombotic immune thrombocytopenia (VIPIT). Henry said there have been less than 30 cases identified around the world, primarily in Europe. Overall, there have been 523 adverse effects following immunization in B.C., largely allergic and anaphylactic reactions. A total of 699,092 doses have been administered so far.

“But it is a serious condition, and could lead to serious outcomes,” she said. The Public Health Agency of Canada calls VIPIT “a rare but serious cases of blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets.”

Henry said that people who got the AstraZeneca vaccine more than 20 days ago should not be concerned.

“If you have received the AstraZeneca vaccine and you develop symptoms that are concerning such as headaches or swelling… you can seek medical attention,” she said. “It is very rare and it is unlikely to see any cases here in British Columbia and in Canada.”

The condition can be tested for, Henry said, and treated.

As far as B.C.’s frontline vaccination program goes, it’s unclear what will happen next. Surrey teachers who had appointments to be vaccinated Monday received Pfizer in place of AstraZeneca.

“We will be looking at how we use AstraZeneca vaccine that’s coming in and yes, it may be that we’ll put it towards the age-based program knowing that this risk is not seen in people over age 55, or at least not yet,” Henry said. “But that’s much to be determined. By later this week we’ll have a better idea of how we can use that.”

READ MORE: Canada to pause Oxford-AstraZeneca shots for under-55s

READ MORE: B.C. reports more than 2,500 COVID cases over the weekend as variants continue to spread

READ MORE: B.C. stops indoor dining, fitness, religious service due to COVID-19 spike

READ MORE: B.C. announces amendments to school mask mandate amid COVID surge


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