Blood-clot expert seeks to quell fears about AstraZeneca vaccine

You run a greater risk by not getting vaccinated against COVID-19, says Dr. Susan Kahn of the Jewish General Hospital.

Montreal Gazette 4 minute read April 13, 2021

Saying the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective against COVID-19, a world expert in thrombosis is seeking to reassure Montrealers who might be worried about developing blood clots.

“Blood clots actually occur at a far higher rate in the general population than among people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Dr. Susan Kahn, the director of the Centre for Excellence in Thrombosis and Anticoagulation Care at the Jewish General Hospital, said in a statement Monday.

Five days after Quebec began offering AstraZeneca vaccines to people ages 55 and over, the West-Central Montreal health authority issued a statement saying that blood clots associated with the vaccine are “extremely rare occurrences.”

The health authority has administered 3,225 of its 6,000 doses.

Among more than 20 million people who have been given AstraZeneca across Europe, there have been 79 cases, and 19 deaths, making for a risk of about four in one million of developing a blood clot, and one in a million of dying, the news release says.

After some European health agencies raised questions about the vaccine, Health Canada reviewed the data and “determined that the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots.”

It has updated labels to include “very rare reports of blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets,” but says that the benefits outweigh the risks.

As a precaution, the use of AstraZeneca has been temporarily suspended in Canada for people under the age of 55. Quebec received about 339,000 doses of the vaccine last week from the U.S.

People who refuse the AstraZeneca vaccine for fear of blood clots are actually exposing themselves to greater risk by going unprotected against COVID-19, Kahn says in the statement.

“COVID-19 infection is associated with a risk of thrombosis that is exponentially higher than the association with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” she said.

After a quiet weekend in many large vaccination centres around Montreal, the inoculation campaign against COVID-19 began to ramp up Monday as more health-care workers are now eligible.

The walk-in clinics that are administering doses of AstraZeneca remain open this week. The vaccine is also available by appointment in more than 300 pharmacies across Quebec.

Health-care workers who were not vaccinated in Phase 1 of the rollout plan because of a shortage of vaccines can book an appointment through Clic Santé.

This includes employees who work in group homes and other residences that cater to people with physical or intellectual disabilities and addiction problems.

Health-care employees in private clinics are also eligible, the government announced over the weekend. This includes employees in dental offices, pharmacies, family medicine groups, psychology and physiotherapy clinics and optometrist offices.

At the Queen Elizabeth Health Complex, several staff members were relieved to learn that they could finally make an appointment to be vaccinated.

“Especially the radiology technicians who are doing mammography,” said director Irene Tschernomor. “They’re leaning right into the patient. It didn’t make sense that they weren’t making this a priority.”

Community and street workers who work with people suffering from mental illness and homelessness are also eligible to be vaccinated.

Health workers will have to show proof of employment at their appointments.

Many other essential workers, including teachers, daycare centre personnel and public security workers, such as police, firefighters and jail personnel, can now be vaccinated.

Several teachers and administrators stayed up past midnight on Thursday or woke up early Friday to book appointments, said Alexander Kulczyk, a vice-principal at LaurenHill Academy in St-Laurent.

“There was a buzz; everyone was texting and emailing each other asking if people had a booking,” Kulczyk said.

“There was an immense emotional release once (I) received the vaccine because there was a lot of stress this year,” he said. “The stress is not gone. There’s still a long way to go, but it’s the first check box on a road to feeling normalcy.”

When vaccination clinics have extra doses at the end of the day, they’re given to essential workers or health-care workers who live or work close by.

When Quebec has more vaccines available, they may be offered to the general public at the end of the day, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Sunday night during an appearance on the Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle.

With about 800,000 vaccine doses on hand, Quebec has begun administering second doses to seniors in CHLSDs who received their first dose in December and January.

It will take several weeks to inoculate the new priority groups, so Quebecers 55 and over who don’t want the AstraZeneca vaccine will likely have to wait until sometime in May to be vaccinated.

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