A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio

Alberta joins Ontario in lowering minimum age for AstraZeneca vaccine

More than 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered in this country

Two provinces will offer the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to those aged 40 and over starting Tuesday, officials announced Sunday following days of mounting pressure to lower the minimum age.

Alberta and Ontario had previously stuck to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s recommendation to offer the AstraZeneca shot to those 55 and over due to a slightly elevated risk of an extremely rare blood clot disorder.

But as hospitalizations surged to unprecedented levels in Ontario and Alberta saw unparalleled rates of COVID-19, their governments announced matching plans to expand eligibility.

“Alberta is lowering the minimum age to receive the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from 55 to 40,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted on Sunday night. “This decision is based on growing scientific knowledge about the vaccine.”

He said more information would come Monday, and bookings would open Tuesday.

The office of Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott made a similar announcement hours earlier.

“Based on current supply, Ontario will begin offering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to individuals aged 40 and over at pharmacy and primary care settings across the province effective Tuesday,” spokeswoman Alexandra Hilkene said in an email.

The statement came after Elliott’s federal counterpart told a news conference that such a move was well within the provinces’ jurisdiction.

“NACI provides advice to provinces and territories,” Health Minister Patty Hajdu said. “They can adjust their use for AstraZeneca as per their desire and the advice from their own public health authorities and medical expertise.”

She noted that Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18.

“NACI continues to review the advice on AstraZeneca use and will have updated guidance in the very near future,” Hajdu added.

Anthony Dale, president and CEO of the Ontario Hospital Association, tweeted that there is “‘surplus supply at risk of expiring.”

The head of the Ontario Pharmacists Association said most AstraZeneca doses in Ontario don’t expire until the end of May, but that a timer starts ticking as soon as a vial — which contains 10 doses — is punctured.

“Once a vial is punctured, it is only viable for up to 48 hours when stored in a fridge or six hours when not in the fridge,” Justin Bates said.

He said vaccine hesitancy around AstraZeneca has led to last-minute appointment cancellations, meaning some of those doses could go to waste — something pharmacists are working hard to avoid.

Many Ontario physicians took to social media to express their frustration with the province’s lack of action on the issue ahead of Sunday’s announcement.

“Pharmacies, listen up. DO NOT WASTE A SINGLE DOSE OF THE AZ VACCINE. Explain the risk and obtain informed consent to administer to people under age 55,” Dr. Brian Goldman said in a tweet Sunday.

Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president of Unity Health Toronto, agreed.

“It’s hard to imagine the provincial government coming after pharmacies or family doctors for using AZ in people (under) 55,” he tweeted.

Later, he praised Elliott’s decision and urged the province to send more to COVID-19 hot spots.

Steven Del Duca, who heads up the Liberal party in the province, took that call even further.

“Doug Ford must release the AstraZeneca vaccine from pharmacy freezers and get it into the arms of anyone over 18 in a hot spot,” he tweeted Sunday. “(Patty Hajdu) was clear: there is nothing stopping him from getting shots into arms.”

Those in Alberta had made similar calls.

“It sounds like Alberta is having trouble using its AstraZeneca. Lower the minimum age; Gen X can help!” Lisa Young, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, tweeted earlier in the week.

Some have been hesitant to get the AstraZeneca vaccine due to a rare blood clotting condition, which has thus far affected two Canadians — one in Quebec and one in Alberta.

More than 700,000 doses of AstraZeneca have been administered in this country.

The global frequency of the blood clot disorder, known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia, or VITT, has been estimated at about one case in 100,000 to 250,000 doses.

The risk of developing blood clots due to COVID-19 is much higher, and experts say people should accept the first vaccine they’re offered.

Meanwhile, the federal government announced Sunday that it was mobilizing its own resources and co-ordinating with lesser-hit provinces to send health-care workers and other support to help Ontario as it battles record-breaking COVID-19 numbers.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the Ontario government would respond to Ottawa’s offer.

Hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units continued to reach record heights in the province, which reported 4,250 new COVID-19 infections in the last 24 hours.

Ontario announced a number of new restrictions to quell the skyrocketing numbers, but has faced pressure to roll back limits on outdoor activities, which critics have said will do little to stop the spread.

Meanwhile, data released by Canada’s chief public health officer indicated the average daily number of hospitalizations and deaths in the country jumped by more than 30 per cent between April 9 and 15 compared to the week before.

The latest national figures showed an average of 3,428 people with COVID-19 were being treated in Canadian hospitals each day during the most recent seven-day reporting period, representing a 34 per cent increase over the week before.

An average of 41 people died each day during the same stretch, which is 38 per cent higher than the previous week.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said cases, test positivity rates and intensive care admissions are all rising as Canada battles a wave of COVID-19 that is driven by more contagious virus variants.

Quebec, meanwhile, reported more than 1,300 new infections in the past 24 hours.

Nunavut counted three new cases of COVID-19, for a total of 22 active cases.

Prince Edward Island recorded three new cases, while Nova Scotia logged seven and New Brunswick added 10.

Farther west, Manitoba recorded 170 new cases of the virus and one added death, while Saskatchewan counted 289 new cases and one death.

Alberta, which is currently dealing with the highest rate of COVID-19 per capita in Canada, reported 1,516 new cases of the virus and three more deaths.

As of Sunday evening, Alberta’s rate of active COVID-19 cases was 405.6 per 100,000, compared to 282.26 per 100,000 in Ontario.

— With files from Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

AlbertaCoronavirusOntariovaccines

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Supporters gather during a rally against measures taken by government and health authorities to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the Whistle Stop cafe in Mirror Alta, on Saturday May 8, 2021. The Whistle Stop was shut down by AHS for not complying with COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Police hand out tickets to dozens leaving anti-lockdown protest in Alberta

Hundreds gathered outside the Whistle Stop Café in the hamlet of Mirror, Alta.

Learning Centre
Staff at the Stettler Learning Centre have been ‘hitting the road’ locally

The goal of the ‘Roadshow’ is to better connect with the Stettler and area community

People line up outside an immunization clinic to get their Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton, Tuesday, April 20, 2021. Alberta leads the Prairie provinces in being the first to take COVID-19 vaccine bookings for pre-teens. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta leads Prairie provinces in accepting COVID vaccine bookings for pre-teens

The province begins accepting appointments for kids as young as 12 starting today

Asymptomatic testing will now be available for "priority groups" who are most likely to spread the COVID-19 virus to vulnerable or at-risk populations. File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS
FILE - In this March 3, 2021, file photo, a vial of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is displayed at South Shore University Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine can be given to adults 30+ who can’t wait for mRNA: NACI

Panel says single shot vaccine can be especially useful for populations unable to return for second shot

File photo
Arrest made for armed robbery in Millet, Wetaskiwin RCMP continue to investigate

Wetaskiwin RCMP are investigating an armed robbery took place May 4, 2021 in Millet, Alta.

Dr. Karina Pillay, former mayor of Slave Lake, Alta., is shown at her medical clinic in Calgary on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
10 years later: Former Slave Lake mayor remembers wildfire that burned through town

Alberta announced in 2011 that an unknown arsonist had recklessly or deliberately ignited the forest fire

The body of Brenda Ware, 35, was found along Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park on Thursday, May 6, 2021. (RCMP handout)
RCMP ask for tips after woman travelling from Alberta found dead in B.C. park

Brenda Ware was found along Highway 93 in the park, 54 kilometres north of the town of Radium

A caribou grazes on Baffin Island in a 2008 file photo. A last-ditch attempt to save some of Canada’s vanishing caribou herds is a step closer after a scientific review panel’s approval of a plan to permanently pen some animals and breed them to repopulate other herds. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kike Calvo via AP Images
Parks Canada captive caribou breeding proposal gets OK from scientific review panel

Wolf density in Jasper is low enough that the animals would not be expected to be a major threat

People pass the red hearts on the COVID-19 Memorial Wall mourning those who have died, opposite the Houses of Parliament on the Embankment in London, Wednesday, April 7, 2021. On May 3, the British government announced that only one person had died of COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Kirsty Wigglesworth
For a view of a COVID-19 future, Canadians should look across the pond

Britain, like Canada, is one of the only countries in the world to delay second doses for several months

Nuns of Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, carry some of her relics during a vigil of prayer in preparation for the canonization of Mother Teresa in the St. John in Latheran Basilica at the Vatican, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. In which city did she do much of her charitable work? (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
QUIZ: How much do you know about these motherhood issues?

In honour of Mother’s Day, take this 10-question quiz

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

Jennifer Coffman, owner of Truffle Pigs in Field, B.C., poses beside her business sign on Thursday, May 6, 2021, in this handout photo. Her restaurant and lodge have been hit hard by a closure of a section of the Trans-Canada Highway and by the British Columbia government discouraging Alberta residents from visiting during the pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Jennifer Coffman, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘Why we survive’: B.C. boundary towns struggle without Albertans during pandemic

Jennifer Coffman’s restaurant is located in the tiny community of Field, which relies on tourism

Most Read