In a statement released late Tuesday, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said it received a report from Quebec of a person who died after experiencing “Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia with unusual blood clots with low platelets following vaccination with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.”
The agency said it extends its “sincere condolences to the individual’s family and friends for the loss of their loved one.”
Health officials in Quebec on Tuesday confirmed the victim was a 54-year-old woman.
The woman’s death linked to a cerebral blood clot — which Quebec public health assured is extremely rare, a one out of 100,000 chance — is Canada’s first death linked to a COVID-19 vaccination.
Health Canada and the PHAC said it is now “gathering additional information on this case” and said the details “will be considered as part of ongoing monitoring of the risk of rare blood clots with low platelets following immunization with the AstraZeneca and COVISHIELD vaccines.”
The agency said reports of blood clots in people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine are “serious and very rare.”
“Health Canada has communicated that the benefits of the vaccine in protecting against COVID-19 continue to outweigh the potential risks.”
In fact, researchers say there is a much higher risk of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), or brain blood clots, from a COVID-19 infection than there is from vaccines designed to protect against the disease.
British researchers said in a pre-print study that the risk of CVST was eight to 10 times higher following COVID-19 infection than it was from existing vaccines for the disease.
Health Canada cautioned, though, that anyone who experiences shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal pain, or neurological symptoms such as severe and persistent headaches or blurred vision four to 14 days after they receive the AstraZeneca or COVISHIELD vaccine should seek “immediate medical attention.”
The agency also said anyone who experiences skin bruising or sees tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of the injection should also seek medical attention immediately.
The fatality in Quebec comes just days after Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), announced it would be lowering its age recommendation for the AstraZeneca shot to include younger age groups.
The committee is now recommending the vaccine be used in people 30 years of age and older, “if the individual does not wish to wait for an mRNA vaccine and the benefits outweigh the risks,” Shelley Deeks, NACI’s vice-chair told a press conference on Friday.
Previously, NACI’s guidance said the shot should only be used on those aged 55 and older, citing concerns over reports of blood clots.
British Columbia on Tuesday announced those 30 and older are now eligible to receive an AstraZeneca shot.
Last week, Quebec lowered its minimum age requirement to 45, while Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario have opened bookings to those 40 and older.
According to Health Canada’s website, as of Monday, 2,316,020 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine had been distributed across Canada.
— With files from Global News’ Kalina Laframboise and Alessia Simona Maratta and Reuters