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Canadian health officials maintain AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is safe

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Matthias Schrader / AP
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In the U.S. and Canada, COVID-19 vaccines have been rolling out for more than 100 days with different results. The U.S. has vaccinated more than 20% of its population, while Canada is at less than 6%. Health authorities are in race to vaccinate as many people as possible before variants take a firm hold. Those variants are deadlier and more transmissible. Disrupting that effort, however, are questions about AstraZeneca's vaccine.

Canada has approved four vaccines for use, including from Astra Zeneca, but Washington has not, due to concerns in the U.S. and some European countries. U.S. officials said Tuesday that Astra Zeneca may have used outdated data when referring to the effectivenenss of its COVID-19 vaccine. An independent panel also berated the drug maker for what was described as cherry picking available data. 

Denmark stopped using the AstraZeneca vaccine in early March after a small number of reports of blood clots in patients. One person died. Several other countries followed suit and put a hold on the vaccine. However, many of those countries have since resumed administering the vaccine, after a review by the European Union’s drug watchdog found the vaccine is not linked to an increase in the risk of blood clots.

But the damage may have been done, eroding public confidence in the safety of the vaccine in North America and Europe.

“I’m confused.  I’m really confused. And it makes me angry," said one person. "I’m worried.  If I had had the chance to choose, I would have chosen the Pfizer one.”

Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said the vaccine is safe and no unexpected vaccine safety issues have been identified in Canada.

"Health Canada is aware of reports serious adverse events in Europe following immunization with the AstraZeneca vaccine, but wants to reassure Canadians that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks," Tam said.

When the vaccine was first approved, Canadian health guidance was to administer it only to people under the age of 65. Now it’s been cleared for seniors, as well.  

The provincial health minister in Quebec said he got the vaccine publicly so people can see he believes in its safety. Manitoba’s public health officer is doing the same and so, too, is Ontario’s health minister, Christine Elliott.

”It’s unfortunate there still is a lot of vaccine hesitancy around AstraZeneca," said Elliott. "It’s safe, it works, it prevents hospitalizations and it saves people’s lives.  And so, yes, I actually am planning to have the AstraZeneca vaccine and I will do it in front of the camera.”

Elliott and other leaders are hoping to restore people’s confidence in AstraZeneca.

Many people had refused to take the vaccine when it was offered to them at immunization centers, as much as 10% in some areas, according to officials. Doctors are now joining the health officials in insisting that it is safe.

“Right now, we feel that this is safe," said family physician Dr. Anna Holland. "And Health Canada has said that it’s safe. And we actually have seen that you’re more likely to have a blood clot from a COVID-19 infection than you are to have one from the injection itself.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also tried to reassure people not to refuse the vaccine......any vaccine.

‘The best vaccine for you to take is the first one that is offered," Trudeau said.

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