Your questions about the AstraZeneca vaccine, answered

In Ontario, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is now available to people as young as 40. But should you wait for Moderna or Pfizer? What if you're pregnant? And what about those reports of blood clots? Dr. Alykhan Abdulla has the answers.

Manotick physician Dr. Alykhan Abdulla offers his thoughts on Ottawa Morning

A vial of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine at an Ottawa pharmacy in early April 2021. Ontarians as young as 40 can now get access to the vaccine. (Rémi Authier/Radio-Canada)

With Ontarians as young as 40 now able to get the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, more people are eligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19 than ever before.

But that also means more people are asking questions about it.

CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning recently invited Dr. Alykhan Abdulla, a family doctor who practises in Manotick, to answer some of the more common queries that have popped up.

How concerned should we be about blood clots?

That's the question Abdulla says he gets the most, and he wants to be clear: people should not be worried.

The rare clotting disorder, known as vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia, is not only "absolutely treatable," Abdulla said, but also better managed when people know the symptoms.

They include shortness of breath, bruising, abdominal pain and an inexplicable headache.

"[If] you get a vaccine and something terrible seems to happen to you afterwards, you need to inform a medical practitioner," he said.

Even those with a history of blood clots are still candidates for AstraZeneca, Abdulla said, as the vaccine hasn't been shown to "aggravate" that condition. 

What about side effects? If I’m pregnant, should I get the shot? Your vaccine questions answered

1 year ago
Duration 2:59
Manotick physician Dr. Alykhan Abdulla spoke to the CBC’s Ottawa Morning about side effects of the COVID-19 vaccines, who should get one, and why you should take the first vaccine offered to you.

What about side effects?

Side effects are common for any vaccination, said Abdulla, and can include chills, headaches, swollen armpits and pain where the needle entered the flesh.

But what people often don't realize is that those symptoms are more common when people get the shot and then go about their daily business as if nothing happened.

"Your body is producing [an] antibody response," Abdulla said. "You need to treat it nicely for a few days after a vaccine."

If the symptoms include coughing, sneezing, an upper respiratory tract infection or shortness of breath, it may be COVID-19 and not a reaction to the shot, he added.

Should pregnant women get the AstraZeneca vaccine?

As the age limit drops, it's a question that's becoming increasingly relevant. For Abdulla, the answer is yes, "full stop."

As he notes, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada's stance is that all COVID-19 vaccines, including AstraZeneca, should be made available to pregnant women.

Moreover, immunization has been recommended for women in all trimesters, he added — so it doesn't matter if you're newly pregnant or about to give birth.

Manotick physician Dr. Alykhan Abdulla wants to be clear that people should not be unduly concerned about developing a rare blood clot disorder linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine. (Tia Photography)

What about waiting for Moderna or Pfizer?

People shouldn't shop around for a particular vaccine, Abdulla said, but get the first one available.

One issue, he said, is that people tend to look at overall efficacy rates — in the 90 per cent range for Moderna and Pfizer, but only around 76 per cent for AstraZeneca — and conclude it makes more sense to wait for one that offers better protection.

But it's better to consider how well they prevent death, hospitalizations and serious illness, he said. And for all three vaccines, that rate is 100 per cent.

"The best vaccine is the one that protects you and all the people that you care about and love," he said. "Waiting for it, gaming the system, trying to reduce your risk based on things that you've heard, those are not valuable ways to make a decision."

OK, so I've been vaccinated. Now what?

Being vaccinated might make you feel temporarily invincible, but Abdulla wants people to remember they can still come down with a milder form of COVID-19 after getting the jab — and can still pass it on.

So his advice is to remain "thoughtful" by doing things like wearing a mask, washing your hands and continuing to physically distance.

"We really need to protect one another," he said. "That's the one thing I want people to be aware of."

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