Here’s what you need to know about vaccine confusion

Here’s what you need to know about vaccine confusion
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This week, as Canada continues to wade through a third wave of COVID-19 infections, an arcane government advisory panel muddied the waters about when — and with which shot — people should get vaccinated.

Here’s what you need to know about NACI and the confusing kerfuffle over its latest COVID-19 vaccine guidance.

What’s NACI?

It’s the , an arms-length panel of experts that reports to officials at the federal health department. And it’s not just a pandemic thing. The committee has been around since 1964 and has issued guidance on vaccines for a range of diseases, from hepatitis to rabies to tetanus and more.

It is comprised of 14 members, all doctors from various institutions who are experts in fields like infectious diseases, public health, pediatrics, preventive medicine and immunology.

It is not to be confused with Health Canada, the federal department that reviews and approves vaccines, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, another federal body that works on preventing diseases and responding to public health threats for the government.

What is NACI’s role in the pandemic?

The committee does not set government policy on vaccines. As its name implies, it gives advice about how to use vaccines that Health Canada has approved for humans.

It falls to the provinces and territories — masters of health policy in their respective domains — to decide how to take that advice.

OK. So what did NACI say?

On Monday, NACI broke with the mantra repeated by politicians and some health experts that Canadians should take the first COVID-19 shot they are offered. Instead, NACI declared mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are “preferred” to viral vector shots made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which have been linked to very rare blood clots.

The committee said some people might want to wait until they can get the mRNA shots to avoid the small risk of clots.

What’s wrong with that?

Kate Mulligan is an assistant professor of social and behavioural health sciences at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health. She called the committee’s advice “unnecessary fear-mongering” and said there are two big problems with it.
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