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Time to inject some clarity

It’s time to stop treating like second-class citizens those Canadians who took the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on government advice.

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Having done so, they’re being bombarded with conflicting messages from Ottawa and the provinces. The governments say AstraZeneca is safe, but Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are preferred, so AstraZeneca use is being suspended.

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But what about the two million citizens who’ve already had a first AstraZeneca dose when it’s time for a second? Will it be AstraZeneca? Pfizer? Moderna?

Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says she expects those who got a first dose of AstraZeneca will be able to choose which vaccine they get for their second dose. Advice on second doses should be shared before most people are due for a second shot, she said.

Canada has 21 confirmed cases of vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT, the rare but serious blood-clotting disorder potentially linked to AstraZeneca, Tam said. Another 13 cases are under investigation.

The Oxford University medical professor who oversaw development of the U.K.’s AstraZeneca vaccine has criticized Canada for endangering lives by “acting on a lot of hearsay, not facts.”

“At my last look, you guys are 3.6 per cent vaccinated with two doses, so just wait for (the Indian COVID-19 variant) to rip through the Canadian population, and then the problems you’ve had with these very rare clotting events will look pretty insignificant,” Sir John Bell told CTV’s Question Period. “You need to get on and vaccinate people. All this messing around, is going to cost lives. This is a public health decision, it’s not some academic game.”

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He makes a valid point. Canada, with only 3.6 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, is far behind countries like the U.K. (28.5 per cent) and the U.S. (36 per cent).

Essentially, Bell was arguing Canada remains a COVID hot zone — the same situation under which Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization advised people not to wait for Pfizer or Moderna, but to take AstraZeneca if it was the first vaccine available.

But now Canadians can’t get it as a first dose, and it’s unclear to many who did when they’ll get their second dose and whether it will be AstraZeneca. This is precisely the kind of confusion that increases vaccine hesitancy.

Canadians who took AstraZeneca require clear, consistent information about what happens next, which they’re not getting now.

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