Toronto's top doctor reassured residents Wednesday that vaccines are safe following recent reports of blood clots linked to two COVID-19 shots.

On Tuesday, Canada reported its first case of a vaccine-induced blood clot connected to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. In the U.S., the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine is being reviewed after a handful of people who received the shot developed blood clots.

Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto's medical officer of health, said it is understandable to have questions and wanting more vaccine information is normal.

"I want to reassure you. News about the vaccines emerges frequently. There's a lot of information available on the internet, and some very unqualified vaccine skeptics sowing fear and misinformation through social media," she said.

De Villa noted that evidence shows the risk of developing a blood clot after receiving the vaccine is very rare.

"The chance of any of us dying in any accident at home in the next year is 1 in 7,100. The chance of being hit in your home by a crashing airplane is 1 in 250,000. The chance of drowning in the bath in the next year is calculated at 1 in 685,000. And as I said before, the current estimated risk from blood clots associated with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is 1 in one million."

Health Canada is reviewing the recent developments concerning the two vaccines. Health Canada's chief medical adviser said on Wednesday that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine still outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19.

"You can have confidence that the agencies responsible for assuring your safety are taking that responsibility seriously. And that if a vaccine is available to you, it is safe for you," De Villa said.

The doctor joined CP24 to answer questions about vaccines and other COVID-related concerns.

CP24: In recent days, there has been confusion on the vaccine plan, including who is eligible. Could there have been a better way to roll out vaccination to get more shots into arms?

De Villa: I think with every endeavour, there's always room for improvement. And, as we've seen, there are some pretty significant challenges out there. This is a very, very complicated circumstance. We know that vaccine is incredibly effective and is important in terms of protection. And there's just huge demand for vaccines all over the world. Hence, we're seeing some supply challenges.

As for confusion with changes that have recently come through, it does take some time for messaging to get out there and for people to understand who's eligible now and how best to pursue the different channels of a vaccine. There is information on the website that actually spells this all out by different categories of our population so that people can get a better handle on what's happening. But certainly, we appreciate the assistance of the media to help get the right messages out there, so people know because we want everyone to get vaccinated as quickly as possible and as supply becomes more and more available.

CP24: During the city COVID-19 briefing, you talked about vaccine misinformation, especially on social media. How do you dispel all of it?

De Villa: All we can do is actually speak the truth and tell you exactly what's happening. And I can tell you this; there is a lot of misinformation out there. And while I encourage people to equip themselves with information, I would encourage people to go to reliable sources of information -- does have a great deal of information around the vaccines themselves. And as I've told you, it also has a nice chart that delineates who is eligible to receive a vaccine and through what channels are you eligible to get that vaccine. I think that's a very handy tool to use, and I would encourage people to look at that. When it comes to other vaccine information, the provincial health authorities are also very reliable, as would be the federal health authorities. These are the sources of information that give you credible science-based information around the vaccine. And what can I say when it comes to the notion that there are vaccines sitting in fridges -- that is simply not the case here in Toronto. Our partners, all of our vaccination partners, us as Toronto Public Health, are eager to get vaccines into arms as quickly as possible. I can speak specifically for the city clinics - the vaccines we have take us through to covering the clients that we have booked for the next five days, which is when we receive the next delivery of the vaccine to allow us to see clients for next week.

CP24: We are getting better weather as summer approaches. People are taking advantage of it. We are seeing more people out running and cycling. Should runners, cyclists wear masks outside, given that we have more transmissible and infectious variants?

De Villa: The more you can wear your mask when you're outside of your home, the better off you are both in terms of protecting others and protecting yourself. But we know that being outdoors certainly lowers the risk for COVID-19 transmission. When you're in that large air space and with the wind blowing air around, the likelihood of transmission from one person to another, especially when that passing by is so transient, is low. It's not zero, but it's definitely lowered. As far as we're concerned, we do want people to really abide by that stay-at-home order as much as possible. This is really important in terms of reducing the transmission of COVID-19. But by the same token, people do need to get outside, get some exercise, enjoy a little sunshine. It's been a long winter and a difficult one at that. But to do so in a way that actually protects themselves and reduces the likelihood of transmission. So, wearing your mask as much as you can, keeping your distance to the greatest extent possible, these are the kinds of things that can be done and, of course, get your vaccine as soon as you're eligible to do so.

CP24: A viewer wants to know when Toronto is going back to normal.

De Villa: That is the million-dollar question for sure. I don't know that I can put a specific date on that. We have a lot of hope, I think, to get beyond this wave and hopefully be able to enjoy a summer that's a little bit closer to what we would call normal. But what this rests on is the ability for all of us to really stick to that stay-at-home order as much as possible, really keep our distance. We know that that's what reduces transmission. And, of course, it's about getting a vaccine as soon as your turn comes up. These are the two most powerful tools that we have in our toolkit to blunt the effect of this current surge of COVID-19 and then protect us in the future. That's what the vaccine is all about, trying to stop or prevent future waves of COVID-19 activity from happening in the first place.

CP24: A viewer asks, if the risks are so low for AstraZeneca, as you indicated, then why have some countries permanently stopped using them like Denmark?

De Villa: I can't speak to the specific circumstances of Denmark. What I can say is that millions of doses of this vaccine have been administered around the world and have actually conferred protection, really important protection against COVID-19. We can look at England, in particular the entire United Kingdom. They've used millions and millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. And they have seen the benefit, the impact of the COVID-19 vaccine. Their infection rates are dropping, and they are now at a point where they're starting to reopen after having been locked down since late last year. It's been months and months of that. They've had a successful vaccine campaign that is still ongoing, but they're actually seeing the benefits of the vaccine. The short version of the story is that the risks associated with a COVID-19 infection are far greater than any risk of blood clots associated with the vaccine at this point. That's what the evidence shows us. And I think people should derive comfort from the fact that there is a safety surveillance system that's looking for these events and actually studying them so that we understand what's happening and can assure ourselves that these are safe products for use and that their benefits far outweigh any risks that they may have.

CP24: A viewer says we are in one of the worst waves ever, and the spread of the variants is out of control. The viewer asks, why have you not made any recommendations to protect TTC employees who risked their lives every day driving past buses or the commuters who have to take public transit to go to their essential jobs?

De Villa: First and foremost, when it comes to employees, while there is a public health implication there, that actually falls under the realm of occupational health and safety. So, I do leave it to occupational medicine specialists, and I know that there is a strong Occupational Health and Safety Department within the Toronto Transit Commission, and I'm sure that they would be welcome to receiving the input and are working hard as they have throughout the entire pandemic to protect their staff.

As the head of an organization myself, we recognize that our greatest strength is our people within an organization. I know that the TTC feels this way as well, having spoken to them many times on this. When it comes to commuters, we've offered lots of advice and lots of infection prevention and control advice in particular and supports to the Toronto Transit Commission in order to provide the safest ride possible. As you may have heard through the press briefing today, the mayor has regular conversations with Rick Leary, who's in charge of public transit. They are regularly discussing how best to adjust the service on the various routes, particularly the busy ones so that buses aren't as packed as they might have been reported to be. I think the idea is that we want to maximize the distance between people, not have overcrowded vehicles, whether they're buses or subways, in order to minimize the likelihood of transmission. So, lots of work is happening there.

When they hear of those situations, they work as quickly as possible to address them. And I think that that's just good, responsible practice. When you see something, and you change it.

CP24: A viewer is wondering why mobile vaccination clinics are not being parked outside of factories with essential workers.

De Villa: We are hitting hotspots. You will have heard from the recent announcements as we moved into phase two; the vaccination plan and eligibility have opened to residents of those areas that have been hardest hit by COVID-19. Those being the hotspots. What's good about going to those hotspot areas and opening up eligibility, both in mass immunization clinics and through mobile and pop-ups to those particular neighbourhoods, is that not only are you getting essential workers in the neighbourhoods in which they live but by going there, you're also covering their entire households. So, I think there's a strong benefit to doing that. And here in Toronto, when it comes to workplaces, what we're doing as a team of Toronto vaccination partners, is that we're actually piloting some workplace clinics to see and evaluate how much more do they add to our existing efforts to get to essential workers where they live and to get to their families as well, to make sure that they're getting access to the vaccine.

CP24: But this is pending supply, of course.

De Villa: Absolutely. That is still one of the challenges that's before us. We're absolutely ready to try out different strategies and see which ones give us the best value for the resources we have, but supply is an issue.

CP24: A viewer asks, blood clots have always been a risk for birth control users. Is there any chance that AstraZeneca compounds this risk?

De Villa: I have to admit I haven't been able to delve into that, specifically. But the viewer is right. There are risks for blood clots associated with birth control. I would say this, though, from what we've seen, based on the best available data, the risks associated with clotting as a result of the vaccine are much, much lower than the risks associated with the COVID-19 infection—all the things that can come with it, hospitalization and death. Again, the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh any sort of risk associated with a vaccine, and it's something that I would still counsel people to get when they're eligible and as soon as they're eligible.

CP24: Is it safe for couples who are planning on becoming parents to get vaccinated? Or should they wait until after the good news?

De Villa: I would say this, as far as I'm concerned and based on the evidence, get the vaccine as soon as you're eligible. That is the best thing to do for yourself. And it's a good step forward. I think vaccination is part of a healthy family.

CP24: A viewer asks, why are weddings still taking place? "This seems dangerous and unnecessary during this time. If social gatherings are outlawed, shouldn't these be too?"

De Villa: These are covered under provincial legislation and regulation, so that might be a question better directed towards the province. And what we've tried to counsel people is that look as much as possible, stick to the stay-at-home order, let's do not gather or interact with others outside of our homes any more than is absolutely essential. I think individuals have to make some choices for themselves. But I would strongly recommend to people that look, if there is an opportunity to delay such things or to really focus on that which is most essential, then that's what will get us through this next wave as quickly as possible. That combined with vaccine efforts to prevent the next wave. And then soon, hopefully, we'll be able to gather as we used to and enjoy celebrations of life, including weddings and all those other gatherings that are so meaningful to us.

CP24: A viewer says, "there are still several long-term care facilities in the province where the residents are still pretty much confined to their room, even though that they're fully vaccinated along with the staff. Have you had any conversations with the province about maybe loosening up some of the rules so that many of these residents don't have to be confined to the room, given that the buildings that they're in pretty much have herd immunity?"

De Villa: My understanding is that those conversations are happening. I know that there are members from the Toronto Public Health Team who are engaged in conversation with public health people from around the province and those from the Ontario government. I have not heard any specific new news on that front. But I have been assured that it is the subject of conversation. And one, I hope will provide some good news for everyone because we know how significant a burden has been born by our long-term care residents. And obviously, we're eager to try to restore the many aspects of life that are so important to just overall health. It's not just about COVID-19 protection. So, I'll look forward to hearing how those discussions go and seeing some action come from those discussions.

CP24: Coun. Josh Matlow is among those calling on the province to implement a change in the system that would allow everyone to pre-register to get the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of age. What do you think of this?

De Villa: I think ideas like this should always be considered. There is some merit there to think about, and one has to look at it more than just on the surface. Let's look at the details and figure out how that might actually be doable and what benefits and risks might come from that. I think that's a wise thing to do.