Feds won't ask NACI to scale back public messaging after confusing advice: LeBlanc
OTTAWA -- The federal government has no plans to request that the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) reduce or eliminate their presence on the national stage, after mounting criticism they’ve provided unclear advice on the administration of COVID-19 vaccines.
In an interview on CTV’s Question Period airing Sunday, Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the government won’t silence NACI – contrasting his party’s stance on science to that of their predecessors.
“Unlike Mr. Harper who thought you should muzzle scientists, we believe scientists should obviously be free to talk about the work that they do, that’s part of Canadians being informed,” he said.
Last week, NACI offered their recommendations on the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, stating it should be offered to Canadians aged 30 and older, similar to its latest guidance on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Vice-chair Dr. Shelley Deeks repeated the same caveat with Johnson & Johnson that she first offered with AstraZeneca: that if people did not want to wait for an mRNA vaccine they may opt to receive a viral vector shot if it is being offered to them.
Suggesting anyone opt to wait for a different vaccine than the first one offered is a message that doctors on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis have been highly critical of.
The committee also restated its preferential recommendation towards the mRNA Pfizer and Moderna doses.
“The viral vector vaccines are very effective vaccines, but there is a safety signal, a safety risk… And the issue with the safety signal is that although it is very rare, it is very serious. And so individuals need to have an informed choice to be vaccinated with the first vaccine that's available, or to wait for an mRNA vaccine,” Deeks said, referencing rare blood clotting concerns.
In a subsequent interview last Monday on CTV News Channel’s Power Play, NACI chair Dr. Caroline Quach said if her sister were to take the AstraZeneca vaccine and die of thrombosis, or a blood clot, “when it could have been prevented ….I’m not sure I could live with it.”
LeBlanc told CTV's Question Period he was taken aback by this statement.
“I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor, most scientists don’t talk about their family members as part of scientific advice, I found that surprising," he said.
The federal government and other public health authorities have kept with their talking point that the first vaccine offered to Canadians is the first vaccine that they should receive.
"Remember – all vaccines in Canada have been approved by Health Canada. Our advice to provinces and territories, and to Canadians – has not changed ... make sure you get your shot as soon as it’s your turn,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday.
Days later, Deputy chief public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo repeated the different roles of the bodies providing vaccine guidance across the country.
“I would like to take a moment to reiterate the respective roles of Health Canada, NACI and the provinces and territories. Health Canada is the regulator that approves individual vaccines and authorizes their use in Canada. NACI is a technical expert committee makes recommendations on the use of these vaccines including the identification of priority groups for vaccination,” he said.
“Provinces and territories then make the policy and rollout decisions about how to best deploy the vaccines in their jurisdictions based on their context and specific circumstances such as the epidemiological situation.”
LeBlanc also said Health Canada’s approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 12 to 15 – after initially authorizing it for use in individuals 16 years of age and older – won’t jeopardize the government’s target to vaccinate Canadians that wish to be vaccinated with at least one dose by the end of June.
“The Pfizer vaccine was approved for adolescents which is a good thing, that will help the country get to herd immunity, which is frankly in the interest of everyone in terms of being able to return to some sort of normal and have the economy return to some sort of normal, so we’re very confident in the supply of vaccines,” he said.
With files from CTV News’ Rachel Aiello.