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Justin Trudeau urges Canadians to get COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible, despite expert panel’s advice that some could wait

Justin Trudeau urges Canadians to get COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as possible, despite expert panel’s advice that some could wait
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OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging Canadians to get COVID-19 vaccinations as soon as they can, one day after an advisory body said people might want to wait for “preferred” vaccines that aren’t connected with a risk of very rare blood clots.

Trudeau welcomed the a range of advice on the science of the coronavirus, but said the “bottom line” is that all vaccines approved by Health Canada are “safe and effective,” and that mass vaccination is “one of the key tools” to end the pandemic.

“The impacts of catching COVID are far greater and far deadlier ... than potential side effects, which although serious, are rare,” Trudeau told a news conference Tuesday on Parliament Hill.

“The reality is, the way we get through this pandemic is to get vaccinated with whatever vaccine is offered to us as quickly as possible.”

On Monday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) created confusion and concern after the committee’s vice chair, Dr. Shelley Deeks, declared the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna are “preferred” to the more traditional viral vector vaccines made by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, which the committee recommended only for people who are 30 or older.

The AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been linked to very rare blood clots — Deeks described the chances of getting them at about 1 in 100,000 — after millions of people received them in countries around the world.

NACI’s advice is that Canadians awaiting their COVID-19 vaccinations should take this small risk into account, and weigh it against the threat of the virus. If you are younger, live in a place with low levels of infection, and have the privilege to work from home during the pandemic, Deeks said you might consider waiting for NACI’s “preferred” shots — the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Canada’s chief public health officer defended NACI on Tuesday, stating that the advisory body weighs the benefits and risks of vaccines. Dr. Theresa Tam said Canadians can depend on officials to base their guidelines on the evolving science of the coronavirus.

“You should trust that the vaccine program being offered to you is done with that best knowledge,” she said.

But Tam also defended the idea that everyone should get vaccinated as soon as possible, citing evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine has helped drive down infections in other countries where millions of people have received it.

“The longer you wait to get vaccinated, the longer that you’re not protected,” she said.

Doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines make up the vast majority of Canada’s supply so far, with Ottawa expecting two million doses of the Pfizer vaccine to arrive each week through the month of May. A shipment of one million Moderna doses originally slated for next week was now also expected to arrive in Canada on Wednesday morning, Trudeau announced Tuesday.

Meanwhile, shipments of the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca vaccines are mired in uncertainty. On Friday, the federal government paused Canada’s first shipment of 300,000 Johnson & Johnson doses due to concerns over production problems. There is still no clear timeline for when Canada will receive the bulk of the 20 million AstraZeneca doses Ottawa has purchased and expects to receive from a facility in the United States.

But the NACI advice on Monday still contradicted the mantra that Trudeau and other politicians — many of whom have already been injected with some of the 2.3 million AstraZeneca doses distributed so far — have been repeating for weeks: that Canadians should get the first COVID-19 shot that they’re offered.

“It is an unsettling message because it suggests you got the second-best vaccine,” Naylor said of NACI’s advice, which implied people who can’t wait for their vaccinations — like essential workers — should accept vaccinations that aren’t “preferred.”

“Let’s not get into Gucci versus Rolex versus no-name branding of vaccines based on questionable effectiveness comparisons,” he said.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner also called on the Liberal government to clear up confusion around vaccines. She linked the problem to statements from Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who said this week that Canadians should consult their doctors about COVID-19 vaccinations.

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“What Canadians need is clear, concise and constant communications when it comes to vaccine use,” Rempel Garner said in a written statement Tuesday.

“The buck stops with the health minister,” she added. “She must immediately fix this problem of her own creation. Lives are at stake.”

It’s not the first time health officials have been accused of stirring confusion during the pandemic. In March, researchers criticized public health officials for issuing different advice on delaying the second shot of vaccines that require two doses.
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