Dr. Leonard Minuk, Head of the Department of Medical Oncology and Hematology, CancerCare Manitoba

Last week, the provincial government opened up the AstraZeneca vaccine eligibility to everyone over 40, so my wife became eligible. She asked my opinion about getting the vaccine in the context of the concerns regarding blood clots. Without hesitation, I told her to get to a pharmacy as fast as possible and get the shot. This opinion comes not only as her husband that loves her very much, but also as a hematologist who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of blood clots. She got her first AstraZeneca shot that same day. The relief and joy were clearly written on her face, visible even through a mask. I haven’t seen her that elated in some time.

Family and friends ask me frequently, “are these vaccines safe?” Most of the hesitancy I hear is around the risk of blood clots as there has been some bad press, specifically about the AstraZeneca vaccine. Serious blood clots have been reported following the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the risk is incredibly small: between about 1 in 100,000 to 1 in 300,000. 

But the fact we’re talking about potential side effects for these vaccines is important. It shows us how closely vaccines are scrutinized and monitored, even more than most other treatments ordrugs we commonly use in medicine. There’s a perception that the COVID vaccines were rushed, and that researchers couldn’t have possibly come up with them in such a short time without cutting corners. In reality, the science that made these vaccines possible has been worked on for years prior to this pandemic.

I also hear some people say they’ll wait a few weeks longer to get a particular vaccine they prefer. My answer to this is generally, “the best vaccine is the fastest one you can get in your arm.” We’re in the midst of a public health emergency, and a delay of a few weeks can mean getting sick with COVID.

I’m very thankful that I was vaccinated in January with two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. Afterward, I had mild symptoms like fatigue and muscle aches. Emotionally, I felt great relief!  Now I could focus on what I was trained to do and what I love to do, which is care for patients, without the ever-present fear of getting sick or—worse—bringing something back to my family.

There are a number of things I look forward to when COVID improves.  I look forward to my kids spending time with their grandparents. I look forward to seeing my friends again and enjoying a meal with them. I look forward to hearing my kids’ school concerts and band recitals.  Like many Manitobans, I look forward to spending part of the winter down south: I would love to lie on a Caribbean beach with a fruity beverage in my hand and chill out while listening to the waves. The only way we get back all that COVID has taken from us is with vaccination.

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Additional Resources

Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine from official sources.