No direction given to local health units on use of AstraZeneca, about to expire in April

By Roderick Benns

As the country scrambles to coordinate and prioritize vaccinations against COVID-19, thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will expire by the end of April.

And while that would conceivably mean a rush for local health units to get them into arms as quickly as possible, the acting local medical officer of health, Dr. Ian Gemmill, says there is not yet any definitive direction on the use of AstraZeneca – not even any indication it is coming to public health units.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the independent panel that offers guidelines on deploying the vaccines is not recommending these doses be used in people over 65. However, Health Canada has declared the vaccine is safe for all adults.

In a recent media update from the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit, Gemmill says ultimately, the approval and decisions on when and where to use AstraZeneca vaccine is a provincial decision, not a local one.

AstraZeneca is being used widely in U.K. with “good effects” in older people, Gemmill says, so it’s just a matter of time until that data is available and NACI can review its recommendations on the AstraZeneca vaccine use for people 65 and over. The shots that Canada procured from India though will expire in less than two months.

A Kawartha Lakes pharmacist who wanted to remain anonymous because of their position in the community, told the Advocate there is “an army of health care professionals ready to volunteer” but as far as they know, “nobody has been contacted.”

“The other issue is we need to vaccinate the vaccinators Other health units have started this,” but not the local health unit, says the pharmacist. They added that not even local long-term care homes have been completed yet.

However, in his meeting with media yesterday Gemmill said the local health unit is close to being done vaccinating all long-term care residents in its catchment area.

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