N.B. minister says to 'ignore' federal vaccine panel, accept first vaccine offered

New Brunswickers should ignore new advice from a national panel on vaccines and instead get the first COVID-19 shot they're offered, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said Tuesday.

Cardy was reacting to comments on Monday from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which said mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are "preferred" because viral-vector vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson carry a remote risk of blood clots.

NACI, a panel of physicians and other vaccine experts, provided non-binding advice to provinces that the viral-vector vaccines should only be used on people over the age of 30, who are at higher risk of getting COVID-19.

Cardy said those comments directly contradict long-standing advice from Health Canada to get the first vaccine that is offered, adding New Brunswickers should ignore it like they ignore "anti-maskers."

"For those who question public safety guidelines, who question public health decisions, who undermine faith in our vaccine system, all I can say is please look at the evidence," Cardy told a news conference in Fredericton.

"Ignore NACI, ignore anti-maskers, ignore the people undermining faith in science, and do your part for New Brunswick," he added.

Cardy said he has spoken to many scientists and doctors and none have expressed the same concerns as NACI.

"I would refer to the prime minister's comment today where he said people should get the first shot they are offered," Cardy said. "Given the fact that NACI did not say that, I side with the prime minister Clarity around communication on science is incredibly important."

For Nova Scotians between 40 and 64 years old, that shot - includes AstraZeneca.

Many who've had it remain undeterred.

"I have always been someone who knows that you have to research and advocate for yourself when it comes to your health, and I feel confident that I made the right decision for me," said Lorna Rowan-Legg.

Richard MacLellan of Tantallon, N.S. agrees.

"I'm happy that I've got the first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, not only for me, but for my entire community, my family," he said.

But for others, the mixed messaging only adds to concern that even a small risk of blood clots is too much.

"The Pfizer was most available closest to me, so that's the one I picked, because I am afraid of the blood clot issue," said Cathy Richards of Truro, N.S.

"My age group was accepted for the Pfizer, and that was the original vaccine I wanted, so I decided to switch," said Paul Harper of Waverley, N.S., who switched his appointment to Pfizer from AstraZeneca.

On Tuesday, Maritime health officials said the decision is about weighing the risks of contracting COVID-19 against the risks of the vaccine.

Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, also said "mRNA vaccines are better vaccines, we've always said Nova Scotians can have a choice."

Dr. Karina Top is an infectious disease expert with the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology who says that people living where case counts are high shouldn't pick and choose.

"With COVID, the key thing is really disease rates in the community," Top said. "Certainly, for anyone in the Halifax region in particular, and people that have to go to work right now, I'd recommend they take the first vaccine they can get."

The province of Nova Scotia says 400 bookings for AstraZeneca were available as of late Tuesday afternoon.

Some clinics and pharmacies report those appointments are filling up.

When asked whether those who received their first AstraZeneca dose will get also get it for their next one, Strang said Tuesday there is research into that, along with some suggestion that having an mRNA vaccine as the second shot may be preferable.

Meanwhile, New Brunswick expanded access to COVID-19 vaccines on Tuesday to people as young as 50 and to people 16 and older who have two or more chronic health conditions.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Jennifer Russell said by the end of Tuesday, 250,000 New Brunswickers will have received at least one dose of vaccine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2021.