Appointments for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are still available, one week after bookings opened up to eligible Albertans.
As of Wednesday morning, AHS said there were roughly 3,000 appointments still available; the province received 58,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Bookings can be made through 811 or AHS’s online portal.
As of Wednesday, appointments were open to Albertans born between 1957 and 1961 as well as First Nations, Metis and Inuit people born from 1972 to 1976.
“I think it is almost certainly related to the perception that people don’t need to get the first vaccine that becomes available to them, that they do have a choice and they can perhaps wait until they can receive a vaccine that is more efficacious,” said Dr. Ameeta Singh, an infectious diseases specialist with the University of Alberta.
The province offered a choice to Albertans in the AstraZeneca-eligible age group of 50 to 64 years old, saying they could wait until later this year for a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
“That is the Canadian way. We don’t force anyone to do anything. We offer options and I think that is perhaps part of what has happened here,” Singh said, while offering the following advice.
“If you’re in the age group and you don’t have a serious health condition then you should go ahead and receive the first vaccine that’s available to you.”
A slew of European countries have temporarily suspended use of the vaccine after reports surfaced of people suffering from embolisms formed by blood clots who had recently received the shot.
According to AstraZeneca, this number is no larger than what is expected within a general population.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health also reassured Albertans last week that the vaccine is safe.
“I want to assure everyone that the current doses of CoviShield AstraZeneca currently offered in Alberta have not been linked to these issues,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on March 11.
“We will continue watching closely and monitoring every dose of the vaccine in Alberta.”
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician at Trillium Hospital in Mississauga, Ont., said facts will hold little sway with people whose hesitancy is rooted in mistrust.
He cautioned against “beat(ing) people over the head with facts.”
“Sometimes data and facts is not what people want,” Chakrabati said.
“They want the truth, of course, but they also just want the reassurance…. Sometimes it is just fear, sometimes it’s mistrust of the government, or some people in general are mistrustful of any kind of medical therapy or the medical field in general.”
Singh said interest is likely also affected by the fact the province has outlined who qualifies for Phase 2B of the vaccine rollout, which includes Albertans with underlying health conditions, that has a start date of April.
“I’ve definitely heard from patients, friends, colleagues that they have chosen to wait until they can receive one of the mRNA vaccines, so made by Pfizer or Moderna,” Singh said.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which has an efficacy rate of 62 per cent, was the third COVID-19 vaccine approved in Canada and it came on the heels of efficacy rates of more than 90 per cent for both Pfizer or Moderna.
“That sort of set the standard going forward. The reality is the AstraZeneca vaccine is extremely safe for individuals who do not have serious health conditions…It would be very safe for those individuals to receive it and would definitely help in getting us closer to getting more people immunized and therefore putting an end to all of this ultimately,” Singh said.
Approximately 272,000 Albertans are eligible for the vaccine as of Wednesday, meaning uptake is hovering at 20 per cent. Compare this to Friday afternoon, when approximately 41,000 appointments were booked out of 215,000 eligible Albertans at the time – an uptake of roughly 19 per cent.
“That definitely suggests, to me anyway, that there is perhaps some vaccine hesitancy about receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. The other comment, though, I would make is I am hearing from my patients the difficulty in navigating the system to try and book immunizations,” Singh said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if that is also another factor in the low uptake at this point.”
–with files from Emerald Bensadoun
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