COVID-19: Why Have Some Countries Paused The AstraZeneca Jab?

In this file photo taken on March 09, 2021 a medical worker holds a syringe and a vial of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine during a vaccination campaign at the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci.  Miguel MEDINA / AFP

 

Why have several countries in Europe suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing fears of blood clots, even as the European Union’s top regulator insists there is no evidence of a link and calls for the inoculations to continue?

Germany, Italy, France and at several other nations say they need time to determine whether the vaccine is in any way responsible for very rare incidents of unusual blood events.

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But they have faced challenges over the wisdom of pausing vaccination with AstraZeneca — a key component of national immunisation campaigns — as the epidemic sweeps the continent.

Deaths across Europe have topped 900,000 since the pandemic began just over a year ago, making it the worst-hit global region in absolute terms, according to an AFP tally of official figures.

“We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death outweigh the risk of these side effects,” European Medicines Agency (EMA) chief Emer Cooke said on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and AstraZeneca have also said the shot is safe.

– What’s the issue? –
The vaccine was developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford in Britain, where more than 11 million doses have been administered without a sign of increased thrombosis risk.

The EMA has said it has not detected a higher number of thromboembolic events in vaccinated people than would normally be expected in the general population.

But last week Denmark was the first to announce it was suspending the jab over blood clot concerns, though it stressed the move was precautionary.

Then on Monday, the Paul-Ehrlich Medical Institute, which advises the German government, said it believed more investigations were needed because of “new reports of thromboses of the cerebral veins in connection with the vaccination in Germany and Europe”.

In this file photo, a vial containing the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table. AFP
In this file photo, a vial containing the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table. AFP

 

Cerebral venous thrombosis — the formation of clots in veins in the brain that can cause strokes — are both “much rarer than classic thromboses” and also potentially more serious, said infectious disease specialist Odile Launay, of the Covid Vaccines Committee created by the French government.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said seven cases of cerebral venous thrombosis had been seen out of more than 1.6 million injections.

The risk was therefore “very low”, he said, but added it would be above average if confirmed to be linked to the vaccine.

Despite the tiny number, it is the unusual type of thromboembolic events that seems to have caused the concern.

But so far the EMA has not been persuaded.

“At present there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions,” the EMA’s Cooke said.

However, Cooke said the regulator was “looking at adverse events associated with all vaccines” and expected to publish its findings on Thursday.

– Covid risk –
As with all medicines, regulators seek to balance the benefits with any potential risks. In this case, experts say, the calculation must take into account the risk from Covid-19.

Belgium on Monday said it would continue using AstraZeneca, judging that to stop immunising people with an effective vaccine in the face of rising cases would be “irresponsible”.

That echoes the view of experts across Europe, which is already lagging in its vaccine rollout compared to Britain and the United States despite rising cases.

Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said Covid-19 is known to cause sometimes very serious problems in the body’s coagulation systems.

So the “very likely explanation of at least some of the clotting disorders seen are a result of Covid-19 rather than the vaccine”.

“Hence, even if there were a problem, acknowledged to be very rare with the AZ vaccine, the overall benefit would be so much greater than any speculative harm,” he added.

Regardless of what the EMA reports, French specialist Launay said the damage to public confidence has likely already been done.

She said “whatever the outcome, it will have a significant impact on immunisations”.

AFP

Countries Should Continue AstraZeneca Rollout – WHO

In this file photo taken on March 12, 2021 shows empty vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center at the UBO (Universite Bretagne Occidentale) in Brest, western France.
The Netherlands suspends the use of AstraZeneca vaccine on March 14, 2021. Fred TANNEAU / AFP

 

Countries should continue using AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine, the World Health Organization said on Monday, after many governments halted rollouts because of blood clot fears.

“We do not want people to panic and we would, for the time being, recommend that countries continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a press briefing.

Her comments came as a growing list of nations suspended use of the vaccine, pointing to cases of blood clots in people who had received the shot, which was jointly developed with the University of Oxford.

In this file photo taken on February 12, 2021 a vial containing the Covid-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table in the pharmacy of the vaccination center at the Robert Bosch hospital in Stuttgart, southern Germany.  THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP

 

Swaminathan stressed that no causal link had been established between the vaccine and clotting.

“So far, we do not find an association between these events and the vaccine,” she said, pointing out that some blood clot incidents among the general population were to be expected.

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When looking at those who had received the jab, the incidence is “in fact, less than what you would expect in the general population at the same time”, she said.

The UN health agency said its vaccine safety experts were looking at the AstraZeneca data.

“WHO’s advisory committee on vaccine safety has been reviewing the available data, is in close contact with the European Medicines Agency, and will meet tomorrow,” WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told Monday’s briefing.

AFP

Ireland Suspends AstraZeneca Jab Over Blood Clot Fears

In this file photo taken on March 09, 2021 a medical worker holds a syringe and a vial of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine during a vaccination campaign at the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci. Miguel MEDINA / AFP

 

Ireland suspended the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on Sunday, following reports of blood clots in adults who received the shot in Norway.

“The administration of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca is temporarily deferred from this morning, Sunday 14th March,” a health ministry spokesman told AFP.

The move came after Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) recommended suspending the AstraZeneca rollout “on the precautionary principal” after “a report from the Norwegian Medicines Agency of four new reports of serious blood clotting events in adults after vaccination”.

“It has not been concluded that there is any link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the blood clot cases and action has been taken “pending receipt of further information”, Ireland’s deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said in a statement.

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The NIAC is due to meet on Sunday morning and to issue a further statement on the matter.

Some 570,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines have been administered in Ireland to date, according to government data last updated Wednesday.

A total of 109,000 of those doses have been manufactured by the Anglo-Swedish pharma giant AstraZeneca.

An AstraZeneca spokesman said the “an analysis of our safety data that covers reported cases from more than 17 million doses of vaccine administered has shown no evidence of an increased risk” in blood clot conditions.

“In fact, the reported numbers of these types of events for COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca are lower than the number that would have occurred naturally in the unvaccinated population,” a statement added.

Ireland — a nation of five million — has suffered 4,534 deaths from the coronavirus according to latest official figures.

The Republic is currently in the midst of its third lockdown after suffering a surge of cases which saw it become the world’s most infectious nation in early January.

In this file photo taken on February 12, 2021 a vial containing the Covid-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca and a syringe are seen on a table in the pharmacy of the vaccination center at the Robert Bosch hospital in Stuttgart, southern Germany.  THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP

 

The government is already under pressure from opposition lawmakers over a drought in vaccine supply amid a sluggish nationwide rollout tethered to the EU jabs programme.

On Thursday health minister Stephen Donnelly said AstraZeneca is “repeatedly changing its delivery schedules, often at the last minute, and revising down the volumes it will deliver”.

“It is deeply frustrating for everybody, with so many people looking to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he told lawmakers in Ireland’s Dail lower house of parliament.

AFP