Quebec bucks advice from national vaccine panel, will give AstraZeneca to people 65 and up

The province of Quebec says the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine comes with too many advantages to pass up, and it will administer it to people who are 65 and older, despite the fact Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization does not recommend giving the shots to people from that age group.

Recently approved vaccine 'provides more flexibility in immunization efforts', province's Health Ministry says

The province's Health Ministry says the AstraZeneca vaccine has too many advantages to pass up, and it plans to administer it to people who are 65 and older. (Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press)

Quebec says it will administer the newly approved AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to seniors, despite Canada's national vaccine expert panel recommending against its use for people over the age of 65.

The province's vaccine expert committee is recommending that all approved vaccines be used immediately to prevent deaths and hospitalizations, the Health Ministry said in a news release, adding that the AstraZeneca vaccine "provides more flexibility in immunization efforts, especially for priority groups aged 70 to 79.''

The newly approved vaccine has numerous advantages, the ministry said, including the fact it doesn't need to be kept frozen and can be used up to 48 hours after a vial is opened. "Its use will also be favoured for (patients) where mobile vaccination is an optimal strategy to reach them at home, for example.''

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization has said the AstraZeneca vaccine is not recommended for people aged 65 years and over because of insufficient data on its efficacy in older people, despite its approval by Health Canada for adults of all ages.

There are no concerns that the vaccine is unsafe for use, but the NACI panel said the vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are preferred for people 65 years old and above "due to suggested superior efficacy.''

The Quebec Immunization Committee, however, recommended that in a scenario of limited vaccine availability, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should be given to the highest priority groups, while it said AstraZeneca could be offered to those that come slightly lower on the list.

The AstraZeneca vaccine "should not be routinely offered to people who present a very high risk of disease, complications and/or who would not respond well to any vaccine, including residents in (long-term care) and (private seniors homes), people with immunosuppression and the most exposed health workers,'' according to the committee's report released Monday.

The report said the overall efficacy rate of the AstraZeneca vaccine was 62.5 per cent. Its efficacy was estimated at 43 per cent for those aged 65 years and over, "but very imprecise given the low number of participants in this group.'' The efficacy seemed "very high,'' however, when it came to preventing severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths, the report said.

Health Minister Christian Dubé has said the province will step up the pace of vaccinations this week as more regions join Montreal in opening mass immunization clinics to the general public.

Dubé said Monday on Twitter Quebec would receive over 213,000 vaccine doses this week, including 113,000 of Oxford-AstraZeneca.