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Everything You Need To Know About The AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine You Keep Hearing About

European countries have resumed using it after a precautionary pause.
Everything You Need To Know About The AstraZeneca COVID-19 Vaccine You Keep Hearing About

You may have seen some recent controversy surrounding AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.

Before you draw conclusions, here's a breakdown of everything you need to know. 

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What is the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine made of?

The vaccine, which is approved for Canadians aged 18 and over, contains a weakened version of the common cold taken from chimpanzees.

It has been engineered to include instructions for creating the spike protein of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Your immune system then recognizes the spike protein as something that shouldn't be there and trains itself to neutralize it. In other words, it learns how to protect you against COVID-19 without making you sick.

The vaccine does not contain the virus that causes COVID-19 nor can it cause the disease.

The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine also includes non-medicinal ingredients, and you can find a full list on the Health Canada website.

If you have an allergy to its medical or non-medical ingredients, you should not receive it.

Why has the AstraZeneca vaccine been in the news lately?

Earlier this month, reports from Europe indicated there could be a link between the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and blood clots.

Following the reports, some European countries paused their use of the Swedish-British vaccine as a precautionary measure — however, they've since resumed the rollout following the results of a European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigation.

What adverse effects were found in Europe?

According to AstraZeneca, as of March 14, there were 15 events of "deep vein thrombosis" (blood clots in deep veins) and 22 events of pulmonary embolism (a lung blockage caused by blood clots) reported by people who got the vaccine.

However, in the same statement, the pharmaceutical company said these numbers are actually lower than what's expected to occur naturally in the general population.

It also stated its data — composed of over 17 million people vaccinated in the E.U. and the U.K. — shows "no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country."

What happened next?

On March 11, Health Canada issued an advisory, stating it was aware of the reports of adverse effects, but "there is no indication that the vaccine caused these events."

It said the vaccine was authorized "based on a thorough, independent review of the evidence" and that no adverse effects had been reported to Health Canada or the federal public health agency.

It also confirmed that European health authorities were investigating and that none of the vaccine batches under investigation were shipped to Canada.

What have health authorities found out?

After investigating, EMA and the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) concluded there's no evidence to suggest the vaccine is causing these rare blood clots.

"There is no evidence that that blood clots in veins is occurring more than would be expected in the absence of vaccination," said Dr. June Raine, MHRA Chief Executive.

However, while a causal link hasn't been proven, they do say the possibility "deserves further analysis," which is currently being conducted.

Health Canada, EMA and MHRA all say "the benefits of the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to outweigh any risks" and that the public should continue getting them.

According to Thrombosis Canada, you're far more likely to get blood clots from COVID-19 than from the vaccine.

Health Canada will add a blood clot warning to the vaccine's product information, but it is still asserting the vaccine is safe and effective.

Is there any more new information?

Two teams of German and Norwegian scientists independently identified "a mechanism that could lead the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine to cause potentially deadly blood clots in rare instances" — as well as a possible treatment for it, the Wall Street Journal reported.

These findings are being investigated.

Health Canada says it is continuing to monitor the vaccine rollout closely and will update the public.

How has Quebec responded?

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, told CBC's Daybreak "there is no proof of a causal relation" and "the good vaccine is the one that is offered to you."

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé got a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week.

Dubé told reporters he wanted to prove that he believed in the safety and efficacy of that vaccine.

What can I expect if I get the AstraZeneca vaccine?

It's similar to getting any other vaccine.

During clinical trials, side effects ranged from mild to moderate and included things like pain at the site of injection and feeling tired.

You'll find more information on the Health Canada website.

Health Canada has a robust website with all the latest information on the vaccines and can answer any questions you may have. Click here for more information.

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