Manitoban wants 2nd AstraZeneca jab ahead of schedule as some doses set to expire this month

Shane Grusko was among the first wave of Manitobans to get the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, and with some local doses expected to expire by month’s end, he is hoping to get his second jab ahead of schedule. 

“Let’s utilize what we have and not be hesitant about doing that,” said Grusko, who is in his 60s and received his first dose in mid-March. “That’s my worry, my concern — that was without even knowing there was spoilage [possible].”

Manitoba paused administration of first doses of AstraZeneca last week largely due to supply issues and a robust stock of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines flowing in. 

Recent news on very rare but serious blood clot risks associated with AstraZeneca also played a role. Experts think the odds of a clot, which is treatable, is somewhere in the range of 1 in 100,000, and that getting AstraZeneca still outweighs the risks associated with COVID-19.

Shane Grusko is hoping to get his second dose of AstraZeneca ahead of schedule given the chance that some in Manitoba may spoil soon, and to be more protected amid the third wave. (Submitted by Shane Grusko)

Second dose bookings open Friday for Pfizer and Moderna. Manitoba’s vaccine officials haven’t provided firm timelines on when people like Grusko can expect to receive a second AstraZeneca dose — or a dose of something else, if mixing and matching is deemed safe and effective.

The remainder of AstraZeneca doses will be reserved for people who got that as a first dose, and there were about 23,000 AstraZeneca doses expected to arrive this week. 

As of Monday, there were still almost 6,800 doses sitting in doctors’ offices and pharmacies from the first batch of AstraZeneca Manitoba received months ago. At least some are set to expire by the end of May, Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, confirmed when asked about this on Wednesday.

WATCH | How the province will use AstraZeneca vaccine for second doses:

Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of Manitoba’s vaccine task force, said Wednesday the province will continue to follow evidence recommending a minimum three-month wait between first and second dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. However, in some cases, doctors or pharmacists may administer second doses of AstraZeneca when circumstances suggest a patient would benefit from an earlier shot. 1:39

She said though the current recommendation is to wait a minimum of 12 weeks before administering second doses of AstraZeneca, doctors and pharmacists have the discretion to give out second doses sooner if individuals with certain conditions would benefit from an earlier immunization.

Later the same day, Manitoba public health emailed pharmacies to clarify that this is the case, according to the vice-president of Pharmacists Manitoba.

Waiting 12 weeks still preferable: pharmacist

Tim Smith, vice president of Pharmacists Manitoba, said the overall recommendation remains to wait 12 to 16 weeks before getting a second dose of AstraZeneca.

Research suggests stronger long-term immunity is achievable when the second dose is administered between three and four months after the first, he said.

“I certainly appreciate that it’s not ideal to let any scarce resource spoil, such as the COVID vaccines, but … it’s really important that we stick to where the evidence is,” said Smith.

“Where the evidence points is to waiting that 12 to 16 weeks time period for the overwhelming majority of Manitobans,” he said.

“That said, Manitobans do have the ability to make an informed consent choice prior to the recommended 12-16 week timeframe.” 

In order to make such a choice, Smith said Manitobans need to understand the risks and benefits involved, including that their protection might be lower than if they waited, and that they may have access to a second dose of Pfizer of Moderna pending results from a U.K. study expected out next month.

Some pharmacists also just participated in a pilot administering Moderna. Smith said that was a success and pharmacists would like more soon.

‘More protection now’

In a matter of days, Grusko is coming up on 10 weeks since he received his first shot. 

He started reaching out to pharmacies Wednesday night to see if any were considering administering second doses of AstraZeneca. He’s now on a wait-list.

Grusko provided an email response to CBC News from Shoppers Drug Mart that suggests the location at Osborne Street and Roslyn Road will hold a walk-in for AstraZeneca second doses on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The thought of doses spoiling doesn’t sit well with him given the current state of Manitoba’s hospitals and rising case counts.

He’s of the mind that it’s better to get his second dose as soon as possible, even if that means his long-term immunity isn’t as high as it could be were he to wait. 

“It’s better to have more protection, and so I can get more protection now,” he said. 

“I think that’s what people should be doing. Get ahead of the game as quick as they can, get the first dose they can and get the second. That’s what I want to say to people: protect others as well as yourself.”

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