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1st case of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine related death confirmed in Ontario

Last Updated May 25, 2021 at 3:56 pm MDT

Vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Frank Augstein

Ontario has recorded its first case of an AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine-related death.

The province’s Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe announced Tuesday that a man in his 40s had died a few weeks after getting the first dose of the vaccine at the end of April.

While the investigation is still ongoing, Dr. Yaffe said the man had vaccine induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia or VITT at the time of his death – the rare blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The risks associated with this vaccine are rare, but they are real,” she said, noting that those who received an AstraZeneca shot still made the right choice.

The death is the fifth fatal case of VIIT in an AstraZeneca recipient in Canada. Experts still maintain the syndrome is exceedingly rare and treatable in most cases.

The province is currently reporting 16 cases of thrombotic thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), of which, 13 meet the criteria for VITT.

Ontario paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a first dose on May 11 after administering nearly a million doses due to an increased risk of blood clots. The vaccine is currently being administered as a second dose only.

Those who received their first dose between March 10 and 19 became eligible to book their second dose on Monday.

The second shots are being moved up by about 2 weeks and being given at the 10 week mark rather than the recommended 12 weeks as the province rushes to use a stockpile of 45,000 doses set to expire in roughly a week.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Medical Officer of Health, said the difference in vaccine efficacy at 10 weeks as opposed to 12 weeks is negligible.

“We’re seeing now with some new data from the U.K. that people who get two doses, as [time] goes on, their immunity keeps getting stronger and stronger, approaching some of that equal to the mRNA vaccines,” he said. “So it’s not that it’s a hazard to get it earlier, it’s just that the data we have is that it may not be as beneficial. But the actual difference between 10 and 12 is not that large.”

He said “we wouldn’t mind you waiting for 12 weeks,” if possible, but since they have vaccines that need to be utilized before expiry, those who received their first shots during the initial AstraZeneca pharmacy pilot project in the Toronto, Kingston and Windsor areas are being prioritized for their second dose slightly earlier.

He said people should talk to their pharmacists about eligibility and some might have to wait the original 12 weeks after the province has used up the soon-to-expire vaccines.

“I understand there’s a bit of confusion there,” Williams said. “The good point is that we have lots of people who are looking eager to get their second dose.”

Approximately 90,000 people are eligible to receive their second AstraZeneca vaccine at the shortened 10-week interval, according to provincial data — about double the number of doses available.

A spokeswoman for the health minister said many pharmacies and doctors would reach out to patients directly, and asked people to only contact participating pharmacies listed on the province’s booking website.

The province has said those who got their first dose of AstraZeneca after March 19 will be able to book their second in the near future.

Another 10,000 doses of AstraZeneca expire next month and the province has more than 300,000 doses in stock.

With files from The Canadian Press