EXCLUSIVE Canada, Ontario, will expand the use of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine as the epidemic grows

Boxes of some of the first 500,000 doses of the 2 million AstraZeneca coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine that Canada obtained through an agreement with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ontario, Canada March 3, 2021. REUTERS / Carlos Osorio

The Canadian province of Ontario will begin offering the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday to people turning 40 or older this year, according to a government source.

The move will expand access to vaccines, as a third wave of infections threatens to overwhelm hospitals in Canada’s most populous province and should facilitate the use of doses that, in some cases, have been accumulating in pharmacies.

The change will be announced on Monday and will go into effect across the province on Tuesday, according to the source. The vaccine has already been distributed to pharmacies, but currently it can only be administered to people who are 55 or older this year.

Ontario announced new public health measures on Friday, promising checkpoints at provincial borders, new police powers and shutting down outdoor facilities, leaving many workplaces open. The measures were widely criticized by doctors and public health experts, and the province quickly reopened playgrounds and modified new police powers.

On March 29, Health Canada said it would analyze reports of severe blood clots and bleeding in a small number of people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine in other countries, and an independent panel called the National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI) recommended that it be administered only people aged 55 and over. All provinces followed this advice.

But the NACI recommendations are not binding. Last week, Health Canada, the country’s drug regulator, said it had reviewed all available evidence and would not restrict the use of the vaccine because its benefits outweigh its potential risks. Health Canada said at the time that NACI was reviewing its recommendations.

On Sunday, the NACI president told Reuters that the panel would make a new recommendation on Tuesday.

Health Canada said UK regulators estimated the risk of blood clots to be very small, about four in a million people receiving the vaccine. He also said that the complication was treatable. Two people have developed in Canada and both are recovering.

Several other countries have limited the use of the vaccine to older people. Denmark withdrew the shot, and Norway said on Thursday that it would take more time to decide whether to resume use.

Ontario reported 4,250 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday. The Ontario Hospital Association said 59 patients were admitted to intensive care on Saturday, bringing the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs to 737.

Health Canada says that those receiving the vaccine should seek medical attention immediately if they experience shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling in the legs, persistent belly pain, neurological symptoms such as severe headaches or blurred vision, or bruising on the skin or small blood stains under the skin beyond at the injection site.

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