'Don't go vaccine shopping': Sask. doctor urges residents to take any vaccine

While Saskatchewan has seen hesitancy from residents to receive AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, one Regina doctor is encouraging people to take whichever vaccine is offered to them.

"If I weren’t vaccinated right now and I had the option [to] get AstraZeneca right now or wait two weeks for Pfizer, I would not hesitate to get the first of whatever it was I could be offered," Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease physician in Regina, told CTV News on Monday.

"If you get COVID, it’s literally the difference between you being at home with the sniffles and you being in the ICU, or in a box."

Regina’s Lorna Flett was apprehensive about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine and even more so when it came to AstraZeneca’s shot.

"I really didn’t know how my body was going to respond to the shot," she said.

Flett received her vaccine on Mar. 19 at The Gathering Place. Outside of a sore arm, she said she feels fine almost a month after getting her first dose.

"I kind of powered through it and said I have to do this for my family and everyone else around me," Flett said.

There are currently three vaccines available in Saskatchewan: Pfizer, Moderna and Astra Zeneca.

The shots from Pfizer and Moderna are reported to be 95 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms, while AstraZeneca has been found to be between 70 and 76 per cent effective.

"The primary similarity of all these vaccines is that they basically do a perfect job, like 100 per cent job, of preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and death if you get COVID-19," Dr. Wong said.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been linked to the potential of developing blood clots, according to reports out of Europe.

As of March 31, the European Medicines Agency identified 62 cases of blood clots in the brain – 44 of them in Europe – among 9.2 million doses of AstraZeneca administered.

In France, there were 12 cases and four deaths out of 1.9 million doses and in Norway, five cases and three deaths out of 120,000 doses.

Britain, where AstraZeneca has been administered more than in any other country, reported 30 cases as of Saturday – including seven fatalities – across a total of 18.1 million doses.

The French Medicines Agency described blood clots seen in a handful of people vaccinated with AstraZeneca as “highly untypical".

Dr. Wong said there’s a one in 100,000 chance of that happening.

"To put it in perspective, if you take a flight from Toronto to Vancouver, that’s about a four-hour flight, your chance of getting a blood clot from something like that is about 1 in 4,500," he said.

In last Thursday’s Physician Town Hall, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said there has been no reported cases of blood clots happening in Canada and the risk of developing a blood clot from the COVID-19 virus is higher at 20 per cent of hospitalized patients and 1 to 2 per cent in "uncomplicated COVID infections".

Health Minister Paul Merriman encourages people to fact check information received from social medial regarding AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

"Talk to their doctor, talk to their pharmacist, talk to a medical expert on AstraZeneca and any vaccine because they’re all safe," he said.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) initially recommended AstraZeneca not be used in anyone over 65, which Dr. Wong said came from a lack of data in that age group initially.

NACI now recommends the vaccine for only people 55-and-over, which Dr. Wong said comes from a need to balance risk and benefit as the risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19 is higher for those over 55 than developing blood clots, but that risk narrows in young age groups.

"As you get older that benefit/risk piece tips farther and father over towards vaccine, whereas if you’re 20 years old, the likelihood that you’re going to have severe illness and die as a result of COVID is still low, even with these variants. So in that type situation, the balance of benefit and risk becomes more challenging when you’re thinking about these blood clots," he said.

Saskatchewan has about 20,000 AstraZeneca vaccines currently available as of Monday.

Merriman is expecting further guidance from NACI on the age eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday. 

With files from Agence France-Presse’s Paul Ricard.