Ontario, Alberta to lower minimum age for AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to 40 from 55

Ontario and Alberta will start offering the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to people age 40 and over starting Tuesday.

A spokesperson for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said the shot will be offered at pharmacies and primary care settings. In a statement Sunday, Alexandra Hilkene said the province made the call based on “current supply” of the vaccine. 

Hours after Ontario’s announcement, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tweeted the province will follow suit, also lowering the eligibility age from 55 to 40, citing advice from Alberta public health officials.  More details will come in the morning, the premier said.

Before Ontario’s announcement, the vaccine was only available to people aged 55 and older in Ontario in line with recommendations from the National Advisory Council on Immunization (NACI) earlier this spring.

On Sunday, however, the federal government said the provinces and territories were free to expand eligibility for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to any adult over the age of 18 as some pharmacists warned they had doses sitting idle because of the age restrictions. 

“Provinces and territories are free to use AstraZeneca in any population over 18 per Health Canada’s license for use in Canada,” federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters.

Before Hajdu’s comments, Premier Doug Ford’s office said it was waiting for a federal decision before expanding AstraZeneca-Oxford eligibility from its current 55 and older age restriction.

Ontario is currently grappling with a third wave of the pandemic. The province reported 4,250 new COVID-19 cases and 18 more deaths on Sunday.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford received the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Toronto on April 9. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Pharmacists and doctors want age eligibility lowered

Earlier in the day, Ontario Pharmacists Association CEO Justin Bates urged the government to take action on AstraZeneca-Oxford eligibility. “Our view is it is a safe and effective vaccine and the benefits outweigh the risks,” Bates said.

“We think it’s important to lift the age restriction, prioritize essential workers and get this out to as many people as possible. We don’t want wastage.”  

The association’s call was echoed by doctors across Canada who said they also want the AstraZeneca age criteria to drop to 35 or 45 years of age. Both Quebec and Alberta said this past week they’re considering this change. 

NACI recommended earlier this spring that AstraZeneca be limited to people aged 55 and older after a small number of younger people in Europe developed a serious blood-clotting condition. The odds of getting a blood clot are estimated to be between one in 100,000 and one in 250,000.

NACI is now reviewing updated information from Health Canada. The health agency announced this week that it has determined AstraZeneca is safe and will not be restricting its use in any specific populations. 

People begging to be vaccinated, pharmacist says

Toronto pharmacist Kyro Maseh told CBC News Sunday morning that he has 160 AstraZeneca-Oxford doses sitting in his pharmacy’s fridge set to expire next month.

He said he was running out of patients over the age of 55 to vaccinate and has had to turn away younger people desperate for a shot.

“I’ve had several people who broke down and cried in my pharmacy and begged me to vaccinate them because they’re fearful to go to work and I can’t do anything about it,” said Maseh.

“We’re not helping anyone if we’re giving some people two doses and then other people nothing.”

WATCH | Ontario pharmacist calls for expanded vaccine access:

Toronto pharmacist Kyro Maseh says instead of having AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot sitting unused at his drug store, he should be allowed to give it to those in the under-55 group, especially front-line workers. 2:02

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