Infectious diseases doctor urges people to get vaccine, no matter which one is offered

Saskatchewan should be offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to those 40 and older, says a Regina infectious diseases doctor.

Benefits of AstraZeneca far outweigh any of the risks, says Dr. Alex Wong

Dr. Alexander Wong is an infectious diseases doctor at Regina General Hospital. (Submitted by Alexander Wong/Saskatchewan Health Authority)

Saskatchewan should be offering the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to those 40 and older, says a Regina infectious diseases doctor.

"It would be a really good thing for our province to bring the age requirement or the eligibility down for AstraZeneca so that we can get as many people vaccinated as fast as possible," Dr. Alex Wong told Saskatoon Morning's Leisha Grebinski.

Right now the province is limiting AstraZeneca to those 55 and over, due to some rare blood clots in mostly younger people.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the government is actively reviewing the use of AstraZeneca and could lower the age to 40.

Health Canada says it's safe for those 18 and over.

BC, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta have already lowered the age limit to 40.

"We're in a massive third wave now across all of non-Atlantic Canada," Wong said, adding it is being driven by COVID-19 variants that are more infectious, create more severe illnesses and are sending younger people into Intensive-care units.

"In the [Greater Toronto Area], the critical care doctors there have received warnings that they need to triage their patients. If you don't have a 70 per cent chance of survival, basically you're not going to get an ICU bed. So that type of dynamic is super scary," Wong said.

He said last night during his rounds in Regina the ICUs are full, with 30 COVID patients.

"So based on all of that, we need vaccine to roll out as quickly as possible."

Wong said the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh any risk of getting a blood clot.

"The 100 per cent efficacy [of AstraZeneca] against severe illness, hospitalization and death, if you get COVID-19 — the benefit of that far outweighs the risk of blood clots, which is probably on the order of one in 100,000 to one in 250,000," Wong said.

"For perspective, you take a four-hour flight from Toronto to Vancouver, your chance of getting a blood clot is about one in 5,000. If you're a young woman on oral contraception, for example, your risk of getting a blood clot is about one in 3,000."

A medical worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine. Interior Health says people aged 30 and older can now register at a pharmacy to receive their first dose of the vaccine. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

"You're far more likely actually to get a blood clot from getting COVID than you are from actually having AstraZeneca vaccine. So we're really trying to message out how it is very, very clear that benefits outweigh risks and that the best vaccine, the most effective vaccine, is truly the first one you're offered. So please go."

The latest numbers from the provincial government show there are 2,626 active COVID-19 cases. Two hundred people are in hospital and of those 43 are in intensive care.

Wong said it was humbling and sad to make his hospital rounds last night.

"It was a good chance to engage with our critical care nurses, our colleagues and just touch base and just kind of, you know, share the fact that we appreciate what it is that they're doing every day. But there are a lot of people, and it's sad. I've kind of described it before. A lot of people like me, you know, young people, families and, you know, real people with lives who are fighting right now."

He said over the past few weeks he has seen Ontario health professionals express their frustration with the situation.

"To see the amount of just outrage, just true outrage that exists among, you know, the medical profession and health care workers and medical colleagues in Ontario has been really quite something and honestly sort of inspiring to a degree as well," Wong said. 

"And so, politics aside, we have massive challenges here. And again, we can't expect to just vaccinate our way out of this without losing many lives unnecessarily and causing a huge amount of suffering unnecessarily."

He's hoping that at the Saskatchewan news conference Tuesday afternoon the age limit will be lowered for the AstraZeneca vaccine. 

He said while Regina has faced the brunt of COVID variants in the province, Saskatoon's numbers continue to increase.

"We believe that it's probably only a matter of time before the situation also starts to become problematic across the province."

"So, again ... if you're eligible for a vaccine, go, go, go, go, go. Get whatever it is you're offered first. It could literally be the difference between life and death."

With files from Saskatoon Morning