“We just had our first patient who has died of a thrombosis, cerebral thrombosis, following vaccination from AstraZeneca,” Dr. Horacio Arruda told a news conference Tuesday.
“This is an event that is rare. We knew that it might happen,” added Arruda, who was speaking in French.
In a statement, the family of the woman identified her as Francine Boyer, who they say received one dose of AstraZeneca, along with her husband, Alain Serres on April 9. She died 2 weeks later.
“Ms. Boyer experienced extreme fatigue along with headaches. She went to the nearest hospital, then, as her condition deteriorated, she was transferred to the Montreal Neurological Hospital Institute. Francine died of cerebral thrombosis,” according to the statement, released in French on Tuesday evening.
The statement went on to say that Ms. Boyer’s husband did not experience any side effects and that the family “… would like to encourage people who receive a vaccine to stay alert for symptoms or unusual reaction.”
Quebec officials said they believe it is the first reported death in Canada of someone who developed a rare blood clot after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Covid-19 vaccines have been linked with blood clots in Europe and the UK, although health authorities there have said the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks. Similarly, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which uses technology similar to that used by AstraZeneca’s vaccine, has been linked to the same rare blood clotting syndrome in the US.
In a statement, Health Canada said it continues to investigate the details of the cases as part of its ongoing monitoring of the risk of rare blood clots with low platelets following immunization with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Quebec’s health minister said the province’s rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine would continue uninterrupted for Quebecers between the ages of 45 and 79. Christian Dube added that the province had distributed more than 400,000 doses so far and was investigating four cases of blood clots.
“We are sad about it but that’s the price of vaccination,” said Dube during a news conference Tuesday in Quebec City.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received his first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine at an Ottawa pharmacy last week, along with his wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau.
Several members of Trudeau’s Cabinet, including some opposition leaders, have also received the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent days.
While Health Canada regulates the use of vaccines in Canada, each province can make its own determination about eligibility, or choose not to distribute the vaccine.
Health Canada first approved AstraZeneca in February for all Canadians over the age of 18, including seniors.
“Based on Health Canada’s review of available data from Europe and from the United Kingdom and AstraZeneca, no specific risk factors have been identified. Therefore, Health Canada is not restricting the use of the vaccine at this time,” reads Health Canada’s latest update on the vaccine, posted April 14.
However, Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has updated its guidance twice on the vaccine after reviewing European data about adverse reactions.
Last week, NACI updated its guidance AstraZeneca for a second time, saying it could be offered to all Canadians 30 or older. It had previously recommended it be administered only to those 55 or older although some provinces had already administered doses to those 40 and older.
But the independent, expert panel also indicated that a vaccine using different technology based on messenger RNA or mRNA, made by either Pfizer or Moderna, should be “preferentially offered” and that a complete series of the AstraZeneca vaccine should be used when an individual does not wish to wait for an mRNA vaccine.
Health Canada updated its labeling for the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 24 after “very rare reports of blood clots associated with low levels of blood platelets following immunization with the AstraZeneca vaccine” were observed in worldwide data.
All provinces and territories in Canada are currently receiving and distributing the AstraZeneca vaccine, including 1.5 million doses that were received from the US stockpile earlier this month.
Canada has so far received more than 4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as it continues to struggle with vaccine supplies and a devastating third wave of Covid-19 that is putting pressure on the health care system especially in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.