Saskatchewan

Experts encourage Sask. residents to take AstraZeneca vaccine, affirm it's safe

People have been choosing to walk out of appointments — or are waiting to be vaccinated — upon hearing they would be receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, and experts are working to change that trend.

Dr. Alex Wong says waiting to be vaccinated could result in harsher outcomes from catching COVID-19

Experts throughout Saskatchewan are working to help people understand the risks and benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine and encourage people to be vaccinated. (Bob Edme/The Associated Press)

People have been choosing to walk out of appointments — or are waiting to be vaccinated — upon hearing they would be receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, and experts are working to change that trend.

Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health said it will accommodate people who have a doctor's note recommending a different vaccine, but the ministry and experts are campaigning to help people understand the vaccine is safe — and far safer than getting COVID-19 while unvaccinated. 

"The best vaccine, the most effective vaccine is the first one you're offered, especially at a time like this where these variants are circulating widely," Dr. Alex Wong said. 

Wong, an infectious disease physician based in Regina, said it's important people understand all vaccines are reliable in reducing the likelihood of severe illness when a vaccinated person contracts COVID-19 or one of the variants of concern. 

"Waiting a week or two could literally be the difference between having a bad outcome and being in the ICU or dead, versus having a good outcome and being at home potentially just with the sniffles."

Risk of blood clot from vaccine low compared to COVID: Wong

Wong said the main concern he's hearing is the association with rare cases of blood clots. Canada confirmed its first case of the clotting condition known as vaccine-induced prothrombotic immune thrombocytopenia (VIPIT)

It was found in Quebec, and the government didn't confirm the person's age but said it was a woman. Wong said the association with blood clots is real, and about one person out of 100,000 — which is low risk to the chance of getting blood clots after contracting COVID-19.


Wong said with millions of people being vaccinated, it's standard to see these rare associations, but misinformation on social media can impact people's views. Wong said it's especially important to be vaccinated as coronavirus variants spread out of control. 

"We do not do a great job of estimating our own risks," Wong said. "And COVID is just really, really bad. If there is anything that you can do to protect yourself from getting COVID or getting really sick from COVID, that is what we're pushing here."

Risks worth a pause for under 55: clinical hematologist 

Dr. Menaka Pai, a clinical hematologist at McMaster University and a member of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, previously told CBC the risks associated with VIPIT in younger adults are dangerous enough to warrant halting the AstraZeneca vaccine's use in those under 55. She said they can be hard to diagnose and treat. 

"If you're older and likely to experience all the other horrible things that COVID does, including killing you, then your decision about urgency and needing any vaccine frankly is really different from somebody who is younger and probably better able to weather the storms of COVID," she said.

Pai says critics of the decision to only use the vaccine for people 55+ at this time are inaccurately drawing comparisons with the risk of VIPIT to the risk of birth control pills, which also carry an increased risk of blood clots.

"The clots that you get on those hormones are very different from the clots that we're seeing related to the AstraZeneca vaccine."

Real world data shows safety of AstraZeneca: researcher

Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in the department of medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba, said the AstraZeneca vaccine has been plagued by messaging issues since the start. 

"A lot of that is back on the company for how they either initially ran the very first trials or how they communicated results," said Kindrachuk, who is currently working in Saskatoon. "Over time, what's happened is, yes, the data has certainly met the mark in regards to the fact that this is a very good vaccine."

It's important to remember that all the development and licensing requirements were done during vaccine trials, Kindrachuk said. He said it's a testament to the oversight and scrutiny that some blood clots have been found.

He said a drastic decrease in cases and hospitalizations in the United Kingdom also shows how successful the AstraZeneca vaccine can be. 

Jason Kindrachuk, an assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in the department of medical microbiology and infectious diseases at the University of Manitoba, said it's important to remember there is a risk with every vaccine and medication but the vaccines have been proven to combat COVID-19. (Danielle Da Silva)

It's transparent that Saskatchewan is telling people where each vaccine can be found, he said, however it could create a shop-around mentality. He said people shopping around or waiting could put the province's timeline at risk, but also leave more people unnecessarily at risk. 

"The variants have certainly changed the game for us," Kindrachuk said.

"We only need to look over to Ontario to see what comes down the pipe," he said. "Increased hospitalization, that decrease in ICU capacity and tough decisions needs to be made. To me, that's the bigger concern."

People with concerns should speak to medical professionals

There are rare cases where the Ministry of Health will work to accommodate people who are being told to not get the AstraZeneca vaccine. On Tuesday, Health Minister Paul Merriman said people with concerns should talk to their medical professionals and specialists. 

If a medical professional gives them a doctor's note to receive a different vaccine, Merriman said the person should then call the Saskatchewan vaccination phone line and discuss options with the vaccine worker. 

For others who are simply concerned, PhD student Derek Cameron said vaccine hesitancy is usually found in well-meaning people who are a bit fearful but don't understand the risks.

Cameron studied anti-vaccine perspectives at the University of Saskatchewan, and says people with vaccine hesitancy are more likely to be influenced by anti-vaccine messaging because they're usually or often looking to reaffirm their doubts

"Where it leaves them is basically at the hands of people who are willing to give them a lot of information that's not necessarily very high quality," Cameron said. "When people are expressing doubts, they're very much there to reaffirm those doubts." 

A worker holds the AstraZeneca vaccine. Dr. Menaka Pai said the risks associated with VIPIT in younger adults are dangerous enough to warrant halting its use in those under 55. He said they can be hard to diagnose and treat. (Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images)

Misinformation is shared and spreads quickly to the concerned parties — just as the debunked myth that vaccines cause autism continues to spread to concerned parents, he said. There are legitimate risks behind vaccines but it's important to put them into perspective, Cameron said. 

"It's pretty confusing and I think a bit more coordination at the international level and just a bit more time. And communication at every level, but at a slower pace," he said. 

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