2nd doses of AstraZeneca to be available at B.C. pharmacies starting Monday

British Columbians who received the AstraZeneca vaccine for their first dose will be able to get a second AstraZeneca shot as early as Monday, according to health officials.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said doses are being shipped to pharmacies across B.C. over the coming days, and that AstraZeneca recipients will be contacted to return to the same pharmacy where they received their first shot.

"Please do not call the pharmacies," Henry added. "We are working with pharmacies to make sure they can effectively and efficiently call you and schedule you for your second dose when it's ready, when you're due."

AstraZeneca recipients will not be able to book their second shot until eight weeks after their first, just like those who received the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. And Henry reiterated that people will not be required to receive the same kind of vaccine for both shots.

People who started with AstraZeneca can instead opt for one of the messenger RNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, though those won't be available at pharmacies and it's unclear whether that would mean waiting longer for a second dose.

Henry pointed to the updated guidance released by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization this week indicating that mixing and matching different COVID-19 vaccines is safe and effective, but said it's "always preferable to have the same vaccine for both doses."

B.C. began limiting the use of AstraZeneca back in March amid emerging reports of rare blood clots associated with the vaccine in other parts of the world. The province has since reported three local incidents of vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, none fatal.

Almost 280,000 people in B.C. took AstraZeneca, and Henry stressed that their decision to do so "is one of the reasons that we've been able to manage to stop transmission" in the province.

"AstraZeneca is an important and life-saving part of our B.C. immunization program," she said. "Your making the decision to receive AstraZeneca was a good choice to protect you and to protect your community."

The government will ensure there are enough second doses of AstraZeneca for everyone who received it as their first, officials said.

Henry also noted that some people who received the Moderna vaccine as their first shot could have trouble finding a second dose of the same vaccine due to supply issues with the manufacturer. They are welcome to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has been in comparatively abundant supply in B.C., particularly in recent weeks.

There are more shipments of Moderna scheduled to arrive in the province, however, and previous recipients can choose to wait for a second Moderna dose is they wish – though Henry said she "would encourage everyone to take the vaccine that you are offered when you go in for your second dose."