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Is AstraZeneca obsolete in Newfoundland and Labrador?

As recently as a week ago, AstraZeneca vaccine clinics for anyone aged 55-64 in Newfoundland and Labrador were being booked solid almost as fast as they could be announced.

On Wednesday, that all stopped.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the province will no longer offer AstraZeneca unless it’s specifically indicated for those who have an allergy to the contents of the two available mRNA vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna.

It came as a backdoor announcement, a response to a reporter’s question after Fitzgerald had announced the immediate expansion of the mRNA vaccination program to anyone over 40.

“Given that we’re able to open up mRNA to those younger than that age group, we will not be offering AstraZeneca for first doses at this point,” she replied. “Certainly, we will still have some doses on hand for people who may not be able to receive an mRNA vaccine or choose not to, but by and large, right now, the evidence supports using an mRNA vaccine in that age group.”

The age limit to book vaccines drops to 30 and above on Friday, followed by a totally open invitation Monday for all eligible residents 12 and above to book a vaccination.

It appears the move to the final phase of vaccinations will arrive at least a week earlier than expected, and Fitzgerald said the province is still expected to hit the target of one shot in every willing arm by Canada Day.

AstraZeneca has had a bumpy ride from the beginning. It got especially rocky when some European countries started noticing a few cases of a rare condition called thrombotic thrombocytopenia, an odd combination of blood clots and a low platelet count that can be very serious. An estimated two in five sufferers have died from it.

By March, advisory committees in Europe and North America concluded the connection is real, and the condition became known as vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT).

Most provinces in Canada still offered it to varying degrees, citing the fact that only about one in 100,000 people ever come down with the condition.

In May, however, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) issued a controversial recommendation that anyone who can afford to should wait for the “preferred” mRNA vaccines.

Provinces soon fell like dominos.

Alberta explained that supply was the main issue it was halting first doses. Fitzgerald revealed it as an afterthought, saying the quick move to full eligibility for mRNA shots essentially made AstraZeneca obsolete.

On Tuesday, Ontario officials were perhaps a little more forthright in saying the VITT risk was an important factor.
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