Canadian government defends interchanging vaccines after warning from WHO

By: Broderick Visser
Written: 2021-07-13

Canada is doubling down on their decision to mix COVID-19 vaccine doses after the World Health Organization (WHO) called it a “dangerous trend” this week.

Canada is among a handful of countries who is allowing people to get a different type of vaccine for their second dose if their first dose wasn’t AstraZeneca.

According to The Indian Express, China was testing the mixing of vaccine doses, while five other countries, including Canada, are mixing vaccines for various reasons. 13 total countries were on the list — with the remaining eight allowing the mixing of a first AstraZeneca dose with a mRNA vaccine.

The WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan discussed her concerns with mixing vaccine doses on Monday.

“There are people who are thinking about mixing and matching [Covid-19 vaccines]. We receive a lot of queries from people who say they have taken one [dose] and are planning to take another one. It’s a little bit of a dangerous trend here. We are in a data-free, evidence-free zone as far as mix and match [is concerned].”

She then clarified her statement in a tweet.

She had also called it a “dangerous trend.”

“It’s a little bit of a dangerous trend here,” Soumya Swaminathan told an online briefing on Monday after a question about booster shots. “It will be a chaotic situation in countries if citizens start deciding when and who will be taking a second, a third and a fourth dose.”

On Tuesday, a U.S. health official said they are reviewing the need for a third COVID-19 booster shot for those already vaccinated. He also said they’re looking to find more data to know if additional shots could raise people’s risk of serious side effects.

Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization’s (NACI) says they stand by their decision to offer second doses with interchangeable vaccines and says it’s safe.

“Current evidence suggests a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a second dose of mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech was used in the studies) had a good safety profile,” NACI said in a statement to the Hindustan Times.

“The NACI reviewed all available evidence from ongoing studies monitoring the mixing of Covid-19 vaccines. The NACI also considered the risk of Vaccine-Induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia (VITT) associated with Covid-19 viral vector vaccines, Canada’s current and projected mRNA (Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna) vaccine supply and principles of ethical decision-making. Updated recommendations were based on the current evidence and the NACI’s expert opinion,” the spokesperson said.

“Evidence on immune responses produced from mixing Covid-19 vaccines was available from the CombiVacS trial in Spain. Current evidence suggests a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine followed by a second dose of mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech was used in studies) can boost the immune response at shorter (4-week) and longer (8- to 12- week) intervals,” they added.

“Vaccine interchangeability is not a new concept. Similar vaccines from different manufacturers are used when vaccine supply or public health programmes change. Different vaccine products have been used to complete a vaccine series for influenza, Hepatitis A and others,” NACI noted.

According to an analysis done by the Canadian Press, as of July 7, at least 1.3 million Canadians opted for a second dose that differed from their first.

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