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UPDATE 1-Ontario complains of more vaccine delays as premier under fire for third COVID wave

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Anna Mehler Paperny and Moira Warburton
·3 min read
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(Adds British Columbia measures, Ford's pandemic response)

By Anna Mehler Paperny and Moira Warburton

TORONTO, April 19 (Reuters) - Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Monday the province expects to face a delay in the supply of AstraZeneca Plc COVID-19 vaccine, as he faces significant blowback for his handling of the pandemic in Ontario.

"The Premier was notified today by our officials to be prepared for delays to two shipments of AstraZeneca expected from the federal government later this month and next," a statement from Ford's office said.

Ford has faced widespread criticism in recent days as Ontario's pandemic spirals out of control, and he has sought to shift the blame to the sluggish supply of vaccines coming from the federal government.

No other province reported a drop in AstraZeneca supply on Monday. A federal government source who was not authorized to speak publicly said it was unclear what Ontario's premier was referring to as there had been no change to AstraZeneca delivery schedules since early April.

An Ontario government source insisted the shipments were being delayed.

Canada's most-populous province said on Sunday it would lower the minimum age for recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine to 40 from 55. Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia said on Monday they would also lower the age.

Ontario announced 4,447 new cases on Monday, with a 10.5% positivity rate and 19 more deaths. The rising caseload has pushed the province's hospitals to the brink.

On Friday, Ontario announced measures to close borders with the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba. But the following day, it reversed its decision to close playgrounds and amended its granting of extra powers to police to enforce a stay-at-home order.

Doctors and pharmacists had expressed concern that not enough people were signing up to take the AstraZeneca shot, citing blood clot fears.

Two people in Canada have developed clots after receiving the shot and are recovering. UK regulators have estimated the risk is about four in one million.

Nadjla Banaei, client care coordinator at the South Riverdale Community Health Centre in Toronto, has had several patients express concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine. They may have underlying health conditions and worry about what they have read, she said.

The move to lower the age group expands the pool of potential AstraZeneca recipients but does not necessarily quell fears around it, she said.

"Why did they drop the age all of a sudden? What are we supposed to communicate to people?" Banaei said. "Of course, with all these changes, people are going to be hesitant."

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said over the weekend that the provinces were free to offer AstraZeneca to anyone over 18.

The West Coast province of British Columbia said on Monday it would direct police to stop drivers to make sure they are not traveling outside their communities. (Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny and Moira Warburton; Editing by Denny Thomas and Peter Cooney)