NACI vice-chair says ‘transparency’ at the heart of AstraZeneca guideline change

OTTAWA — Despite concerns the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI)’s change in directive about the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is causing vaccine hesitancy, the vice-chair says it was done in the name of transparency.

In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Dr. Shelley Deeks said it would have caused far greater damage to disregard a “safety signal” about the drug’s rare side effect of blood clots following immunization.

“From a risk-benefit point of view, what we looked at was…the potential risk of developing this adverse event following AstraZeneca vaccine, and compared that to the fact that there are other vaccines that can be used in Canada, as well as the risk of developing, COVID, and then having an adverse outcome from COVID-19, so hospitalization or death,” said Deeks.

“We felt as a committee that the risk-benefit was in favor of pausing the vaccine until we know more.”

The NACI made the decision last week, which triggered Health Canada to request a “detailed assessment of the benefits and risks of the vaccine by age and sex in the Canadian context,” from international manufacturers.

All provinces and territories have since adjusted their guidance following the announcement.

Deeks said they are awaiting data out of the U.K., Europe as well as the additional information Health Canada requested before they make a final determination about the use of AstraZeneca.

It was believed that instances of blood clots or vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia occurred in about one per million administered vaccines, according to the World Health Organization, but a report from the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Germany cited potential numbers closer to one in 100,000 doses.

Canada has already administered more than 300,000 doses of the drug, with no reports of adverse side effects.

Deeks acknowledged the messaging has been both “evolving” and “confusing,” but said that the overall goal is to be as “responsive and transparent” as possible as new information because available.

“None of us knew there was going to be a safety signal, but we’ve also committed to Canadians that we will, if there is an issue, be transparent and we will change our recommendations based on those issues,” she said.

In a separate interview on Question Period, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said he’s seen no hint of vaccine hesitancy thus far in his province.

“Look, we opened up AstraZeneca for people between 55 and 64 yesterday and we got a massive response so I think people want to be vaccinated,” he said.

“When a safety signal goes up, it means we have to act and that builds confidence in our campaign, it says that if there’s a reason to be concerned, we’re going to let you know, and we’re going to take action and that’s precisely what happened in Canada.”

With a file from CTV News’ Christy Somos.

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