NACI reverses course, says AstraZeneca vaccine can be used on seniors in Canada

In a reversal of its own guidance issued earlier this month, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is now recommending AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine be used on people aged 65 or older.

The committee now says real-world evidence has demonstrated that the vaccine is safe and effective in older adults, particularly against severe illness from COVID-19 and hospitalization.

Read more: AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine not recommended for people in Canada over age 65: NACI

Earlier this month, NACI issued guidelines saying Canadian seniors should not receive the AstraZeneca shot. The committee cited “limited information on the efficacy of this vaccine in this age group” as the reasoning behind the decision at the time.

The committee said Tuesday that it considered three “real-world effectiveness studies” to inform its decision to change the recommendations, including evidence from Britain, which has been administering the vaccine to people over 65 years and older since January.

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Similar findings from a separate study out of Scotland were also considered in the decision-making.

Health Canada approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in anyone 18 years or older in late February. It became the third COVID-19 shot green-lit in Canada, joining vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Canada’s initial 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have been manufactured by the Serum Institute in India.

Click to play video: 'How are AstraZeneca side effect claims being addressed? We ask an infectious diseases expert' 6:00How are AstraZeneca side effect claims being addressed? We ask an infectious diseases expert

How are AstraZeneca side effect claims being addressed? We ask an infectious diseases expert

In total, two million doses will arrive in the country from that agreement. Another 20 million doses already secured with AstraZeneca will begin to arrive in the spring.

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According to NACI, the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine has a reported efficacy of 62 per cent in those aged 18 to 64.

Blood clot concerns

The new guidance from NACI comes as several European countries – including Germany, France, Italy and Spain —  have halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing concerns over reports of blood clots in some people who received the shots.

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The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization have both said the data available does not suggest the vaccine caused the complications.

Similarly, in a statement emailed to Global News on Sunday, Health Canada said at this time “there is no indication that the vaccine caused these events.”

Read more: Does AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine cause blood clots? Here’s what we know so far

“To date, no adverse events related to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, or the version manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, have been reported to Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada,” the email read.

However, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has launched an investigation to determine whether the shot is, in fact, connected to the reported blood clots.

The agency is expected to discuss the results of their assessment Tuesday, as well. Many of the European countries that chose to suspend the shot did so pending the EMA’s review.

Health Canada said, though, that “none of the identified batches under investigation have been shipped to Canada.”

Further, speaking at a press conference in Montreal on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered his reassurance on the safety of the shot.

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He said Health Canada regulators are “constantly analyzing all the available information about vaccines and have guaranteed those approved in Canada are safe for use.”

Click to play video: 'Canada gives go-ahead to continue using Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine' 2:32Canada gives go-ahead to continue using Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

Canada gives go-ahead to continue using Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

“Health Canada and our experts and scientists have spent an awful lot of time making sure every vaccine approved in Canada is both safe and effective,” he told reporters.

“Therefore, the very best vaccine for you to take is the first one that is offered to you.”

As of Monday evening, more than 3.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered across the country, meaning approximately 4.2 per cent of the Canadian population has been immunized against the virus.

— With files from Global News’ Emerald Bensadoun and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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