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AstraZeneca or mRNA? British Columbians make second-dose decisions

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

British Columbians who got AstraZeneca's vaccine as a first dose have the option to choose their second

Some people in B.C. say they're ready to get the first shot that's offered to them if it means getting fully vaccinated

Province says information is available to help British Columbians make informed decision

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s decision time for British Columbians who received AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as their first dose, as they now must choose whether to stick with the same shot for their second or opt for an mRNA vaccine instead.

While some know what they’re going to do, others aren’t so sure.

On Monday, pharmacies across B.C. started receiving new supplies of AstraZeneca and began sending out invitations for people to book for their second dose.

“Whatever I can get, the sooner I can get,” said Charlie, who told NEWS 1130 he’s not worried about potential side effects, but is concerned about getting COVID-19.

“I so really don’t care about which one I’m getting,” he added with a chuckle. “I have read enough studies which have said that getting AZ first and Pfizer or Moderna second is fine, so basically whichever comes up first.”

As of Monday afternoon, Charlie had not received a phone call from his pharmacy to book his second shot. He’s eagerly awaiting.

“I am so fine with either. I just want this nightmare to end. I just want to be vaccinated, that is all I want,” Charlie told NEWS 1130, adding he doesn’t have many concerns about blood clots or other potential adverse effects.

The province announced in May that it was holding its remaining supply of AstraZeneca for second shots amid limited supply. The decision also came as the province awaited the findings of a study on interchangeability of COVID-19 vaccines, as well as guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

On June 1, NACI said an mRNA vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) can be the follow-up to a first dose of AstraZeneca. However, the panel said if you received an mRNA shot as your first dose, you should be given an mRNA as your second shot.

Days later, on June 3, B.C. announced that people who received AstraZeneca as their first shot could get the same for their second or choose either of the mRNA vaccine brands.

While Charlie is ready to get whichever vaccine is offered to him first, Richard is among those who wasn’t so sure, noting he has had concerns with both AstraZeneca’s vaccine and the mRNA options.

Richard received his first dose on April 20. He said he got an email from his pharmacy to book a second shot for later in June.

“I’ve just been kind of waffling on the decision about which one to take,” he said with unease.

He tells NEWS 1130 he’s been trying to weigh the pros and cons of all the vaccines available, including the possibility of boosters later down the line. However, he’s leaning toward getting an AstraZeneca vaccine as his second dose for the time being.

“Because I got it the first time. And I’ll worry about boosters later, if I need one,” he explained.

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When it comes to potential adverse reactions, including rare blood clots reported in some people who received AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Richard says he doesn’t have many concerns, unlike people he knows.

He is, however, frustrated, saying he has to do his own research and, given he doesn’t have the expertise of doctors and other experts in the field, feels like he doesn’t have enough information.

“I have to make a decision based on insufficient information, which is troublesome,” he said.

Meanwhile, Erica, who was booked to get her second dose on Tuesday, says she’s ready to get AstraZeneca.

“My thinking is that if the public health officials have approved it, they are far more expert than I could ever be. So, if they say it’s okay to get then it’s okay to get for me,” she said, adding she got her first dose at a pharmacy and didn’t experience any adverse reaction.

“I’m perfectly willing to take the second one and it’s the first available. So, everything lines up to say that’s the one for me,” Erica added.

“Relief is the best side effect.”

She says it was an easy decision for her to make. However, she understands it may not be quite so simple for others.

“I think if people are hesitant about it, it’s good for them to have other choices,” she explained.

B.C.’s deputy provincial health officer, Dr. Reka Gustafson, said on Monday detailed information is available to help people make informed decisions.

“It’s detailed on the effectiveness of the vaccine, it also provides detail on the risk of the blood clots that some people are concerned about, both after the first dose and after the second dose. Data from the United Kingdom indicates that after the second dose, the risk of that blood clot is about one in 600,000,” she explained.

“As well as the evidence that we have for effectiveness of the mix and match schedule. We now have studies that tell us it’s a safe thing to do, that you may get some more local reactions, and that the second dose of that mRNA vaccine does provide a booster reaction, and that booster reaction is important, that’s what we’re looking for in a second dose of vaccine.”

Gustafson noted indications show many people are still planning to stick with AstraZeneca.

“It is a highly effective vaccine. People have had good experiences with the vaccine,” she said.

Editor’s note: We have excluded last names to protect the privacy of the people interviewed for this story.