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Canada's health minister tries to ease concerns over AstraZeneca vaccine

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead, Manitoba Vaccine Implementation Task Force draws a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Winnipeg, Friday, March 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says all vaccines approved in Canada are safe

Health Canada regularly reviewing safety and efficacy data around vaccines, says Hajdu

OTTAWA – The federal health minister is trying to reassure Canadians about the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, as some provinces halt first doses.

“The vaccination is clearly saving lives and certainly a big part in stopping the spread [of COVID-19],” Minister Patty Hajdu said, stressing all vaccines approved for use in Canada are safe.

“Canadians should take the first vaccine that’s offered to them.”

Alberta and Saskatchewan are among the provinces that have already made the move, pointing to supply as a main concern.

However, Ontario has also halted use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, citing the risk of blood clots increasing to about one in 60,000. Previously, it was believed that the risk was anywhere between one and 100,000 to one in 250,000.

Despite this, Ontario tried to reassure people who had already received one dose of the AstraZeneca shot, saying they made the right decision.

Hajdu says Health Canada reviews safety and efficacy statistics on an ongoing basis.

“There’s regular reporting on side effects of any medication or vaccine approved for use, especially vaccines in this context of emergency-use approval,” she explained.

“In terms of the future of AstraZeneca and the doses on order, of course we’re constantly monitoring not just the demand of vaccines from the provinces and territories, but certainly the usage. And obviously, provinces have indicated that an uncertain supply in the case of AstraZeneca is making it difficult for them to plan for second doses,” Hajdu said.

She notes Canada has “fantastic supply” from Pfizer and Moderna, with millions of doses expected in the weeks ahead.

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Meanwhile, Hajdu has also confirmed work continues on the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

“Certainly my heart is with families that have been affected by vaccination in any way,” she said.

The fund was announced by the federal government last year. At the time, the prime minister promised people who face serious health impacts due to receiving the vaccine would get financial compensation.

Hajdu says claims will be retroactive so it will apply to anyone who started receiving their shots last year.

Through the fund, the federal government would foot the costs and provide financial support to people, should the worst case scenario play out.