COVID-19: Ontario pauses AstraZeneca rollout over blood clot concerns; Province reports lowest case count since March

Public health officials say data show an increased risk of a rare but serious side effects


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Ontario pauses AstraZeneca rollout over blood clotting concerns

4:30 pm The province will no longer offer AstraZeneca for first doses due to increased risk of rare but serious blood clotting, public health officials announced today.

“Ontario will be pausing the rollout and administration of the first or initial doses of AstraZeneca vaccine at this time,” Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said during a press briefing. “This decision was made out of an abundance of caution due to an observed increase in the rare blood clotting condition known as vaccine-induced immune thrombotic thrombocytopenia [VITT] linked to AstraZeneca vaccine.”

Williams said the decision to pause is also based on reliable supply of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, and the recent downward trend in new COVID-19 cases.

Given the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission, hospitalization and death in Ontario due to the prevalence of highly contagious variants, Williams added that “those who received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine did absolutely the right thing to prevent illness and to protect their families, loved ones and communities.”

Jessica Hopkins, chief health protection and emergency preparedness officer for Public Health Ontario, added that the risk of VITT has increased from between one in 125,000 and one in one million doses administered a month ago to one in 60,000 doses administered today.

“The risk of severe outcomes with VITT shouldn’t be underestimated at an individual level,” she said, calling the increased VITT rate a “significant safety signal.”

As of May 8, Ontario had administered 651,012 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with a rate of VITT of 0.9 per 100,000 doses. The province has also administered 202,873 doses of the AstraZeneca recombinant Covishield with a rate of VITT of one per 100,000 shots administered.

Hopkins said Ontario has eight confirmed cases of VITT.

“One of the things that I don’t want to happen is for people to misinterpret this. This is still a very rare side effect,” Hopkins added. “It’s still rare. This is really out of an abundance of precaution. And that’s why we have a vaccine safety surveillance system – to identify these early signals that relate to safety and take action on them.”

Williams said data from the UK shows the risk of VITT is reduced with the second dose to a rate of about one in one million doses administered. Provincial public health officials are working with federal counterparts to provide more guidance before people are due to receive second doses.

He added the province is also asking the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to provide direction on interchangeability of COVID-19 vaccines for second doses.

Supply, availability and expiry dates are also considerations, Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer said, adding there are 50,000 doses of AstraZeneca in the province right now. Huyer said it is unclear when Ontario would receive more shipments the vaccine, but that there is enough time between dose intervals to give people updated advice.

The recommended dose interval is 16 weeks for AstraZeneca or 12 weeks if there is a dose interval exception.


Ontario reports lowest daily case count since late March

11 am Ontario is reporting 2,073 new COVID-19 cases and 15 more deaths on May 11, but only 28,100 tests were conducted in the past day.

Today’s daily count marks the lowest single-day increase since March 29.

The province detected 2,710 cases yesterday, 3,216 new cases on Sunday, 2,864 on Saturday and 3,166 on Friday. The seven-day average has dropped below 3,000 and now stands at 2,914 – down from 3,509 this time last week.

Of today’s 15 deaths, two people were between the ages of 20 and 39 and three people were long-term care home residents.

Labs completed 28,109 tests in the past day, making for a positivity rate of 8.5 per cent compared with 9.1 per cent last Tuesday. Another 24,915 test specimens are still being processed.

“Locally, there are 685 new cases in Toronto, 389 in Peel, 231 in York Region and 144 in Durham,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Twitter.

Hospitalizations are also continuing to decline. There are 1,782 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 802 in intensive care units. There are 568 people in hospital breathing with the help of a ventilator.

On Monday, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health David Williams said he wants daily COVID-19 cases to fall “well below” 1,000 before he advises the government to lift restrictions. The stay-at-home order will expire May 20, but government officials have indicated it will likely be extended until at least June 2.

Starting today, the second cohort of frontline workers, including grocery store and restaurant workers, as well as people with dementia, diabetes and other health conditions, are now eligible to book COVID-19 vaccine appointments online using the provincial booking system. On May 13, the province will expand booking eligibility to include everyone in the province age 40 and older.

Additionally, high-risk health-care workers, dialysis patients and all First Nations, Inuit and Metis people are now eligible to book an appointment for a second dose earlier than the four-month extended interval period.

As of 8 pm last night, the province had administered 6,350,881 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 49 per cent of Ontarians had received at least one dose.


New COVID-19 cases in Ontario on May 11

The following regions reported five or more new COVID-19 cases:

Toronto = 685

Peel Region = 389

York Region = 231

Durham Region = 144

City of Hamilton = 92

Halton Region = 84

Ottawa = 77

Niagara Region = 59

Region of Waterloo = 56

Middlesex-London = 56

Simcoe Muskoka = 39

Windsor-Essex = 30

Brant County = 20

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph = 18

Kingston, Frontenacand Lennox & Addington = 17

Porcupine = 15

Sudbury & Districts = 9

Grey Bruce = 7

Southwestern = 7

Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge = 6

Hastings Prince Edward = 5

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