Eastern Ontario health units prepare for hesitancy to vaccine mixing

Health officials in eastern Ontario are preparing for the possibility that some people will reject a Moderna vaccine as their second dose, as shipments of Pfizer are temporarily delayed.  

Health officials urging people it's safe to mix Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines

Moderna will be the only vaccine offered at certain clinics in eastern Ontario. Health officials in the region are urging people to not turn down an available vaccine if it's different from their first dose. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Health officials in eastern Ontario are preparing for the possibility that some people will reject a Moderna vaccine as their second dose, as shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are temporarily delayed.  

The federal government has said Pfizer's weekly shipment of 2.4 million doses is delayed and will arrive mid-week.

As a result, both Ottawa Public Health (OPH) and the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) said they will be offering the Moderna vaccine exclusively at certain clinics over the coming days, to honour existing appointments.

Both health units are reminding people that mixing doses is safe.

"I want to dispel any myths about Moderna or Pfizer being better than each other. Both of them are equally effective," said EOHU's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Paul Roumeliotis Monday.

While Roumeliotis wasn't aware of anyone in the region rejecting a Moderna vaccine, he said he's anticipating the possibility of appointment cancellations in the coming days.

"If that becomes a trend, we're going to have to re-look at how significant the problem is. Do we have other alternatives for them? Do we wait until they get the Pfizer? Those are the things that we're going to be looking at this point," Roumeliotis said.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) updated its guidance recommending people can now take either of the two shots as a second dose — because they both use a similar mRNA technology — if the same first dose is unavailable or unknown.

No particular vaccine guaranteed, says OPH

Ottawa's Robert Attrell and his wife received the Pfizer vaccine for their first dose and was hoping to get a matching second dose for his appointment this week.

While Attrell is aware of the latest guidelines about mixing doses, he said they're willing to wait a few extra days to see if the Pfizer vaccine becomes available.

"Just on the off chance there was any kind of difference, you know, three months down the road we find out it would have been better to have the same two shots," he said. 

In a statement to CBC, Anthony Di Monte, general manager of emergency and protective services for Ottawa, said OPH "cannot guarantee a particular vaccine type for adults 18 years and older" at its community clinics.

So far, only about one per cent of people have declined to receive the vaccine available at community clinics, but all unclaimed doses are reallocated and administered, the statement read.

In a statement, OPH said it has created resources helping people recognize the similarities and differences between the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines available in English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Somali and Mandarin.

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