More than a dozen countries, mostly in the European Union, have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine due to concerns that some patients have developed blood clots. The World Health Organization (WHO) urged countries to continue using the vaccine, but still decided to convene a meeting due to the massive halt in AstraZeneca vaccination.
In total, about 17 million people have received AstraZeneca vaccinations (at least one dose) in the European Union and the UK. Among them, 40 people had blood clots after vaccination. Whether the AstraZeneca vaccine is related to thrombosis is not clear, since its use is not long enough.
Vaccine advocates argue that the drug can be used, and the proportion of patients with thrombosis is consistent with the usual statistics, and the vaccine has nothing to do with it.
At the same time, many governments have decided to suspend (rather than ban entirely) the vaccination of AstraZeneca pending an investigation by the EMA regulator and estimates by WHO experts.
Which countries have suspended vaccination
Denmark became the first country to stop using the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for two weeks after reports of blood clots in some people and even one death on 11 March. A 60-year-old woman who was vaccinated with AstraZeneca developed a blood clot and died. She was vaccinated from the same batch used in Austria. During these two weeks of suspension of vaccinations, the EMA is to investigate.
Norway, Iceland, Luxembourg, Romania, and Congo followed Denmark's example. Norwegian authorities said Saturday that four people under 50 who received the AstraZeneca vaccine had unusually low platelet counts in their blood, which could lead to severe bleeding.
Bulgaria on March 12 suspended the use of the drug after the death of a 57-year-old woman a few hours after vaccination. It is believed that the woman died of heart failure, no thrombosis was found. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said that the use of AstraZeneca will be suspended "until all doubts are dispelled and until experts give guarantees that it does not pose a danger to people."
Ireland and the Netherlands announced shortly thereafter that they are also temporarily discontinuing the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Estonia joined them: at first, it was recommended not to vaccinate patients with a high risk of thrombosis, and then they were suspended altogether. In Estonia, a 31-year-old man died two weeks after vaccination. Latvia and Lithuania also temporarily stopped vaccination with this drug.
On Monday, March 15, French President Emmanuel Macron said France would also suspend its use until the European health authority, EMA, reviews a vaccine.
Alain Fischer, head of the vaccination program in France, explained today that the stoppage is due to "the rare nature of the side effects, not the number." He added that some people who received the vaccine experienced symptoms not usually seen in "classical pulmonary embolism," which are often "associated only with serious illness."
Further Slovenia, Spain, Cyprus, and Portugal also stopped vaccination with AstraZeneca. Following the example of European countries, Indonesia also stopped vaccination. Indonesia's Ministry of Health is awaiting WHO's post-vaccination case verification.
On March 15, Italy also suspended the use of the drug. Last week, Austria and Italy suspended the use of only certain batches of the vaccine after a vaccinated man developed deep vein thrombosis. In Austria, a 49-year-old nurse died after being vaccinated.
In Germany, specialists from the Paul-Ehrlich Institute recommended that the vaccine be temporarily not used due to reports of cases of thrombosis. The introduction of both the first and second doses of the vaccine is canceled. The institute's specialists also urged those who feel unwell for more than four days after being vaccinated with this drug to consult a doctor. Cases of concern were "very rare" - only seven patients with cerebral thrombosis were reported in the country, and more than 1.6 million people were vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Sweden also decided on March 16 to suspend the use of AstraZeneca. Sweden has reported 10 cases of blood clots and one case of low platelet counts among people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
"The Swedish Public Health Agency has decided to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine until the European Medicines Agency investigates the alleged side effects," it said in a statement.
Which countries keep vaccinating
Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný said that his country does not intend to refuse vaccination with AstraZeneca.
"The positive effect of the vaccine is obvious, and there is no reason for concern," Blatny said.
He assured that the government is closely monitoring the situation with reports of cases of thrombosis among the vaccinated.
AstraZeneca continues to be vaccinated in Great Britain, Poland, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand.
Briton Michael Head, a senior fellow at the University of Southampton in the field of global health, said that "the decisions of France, Germany and other countries are puzzling." He noted that delays in vaccinations and "the potential for increased doubts about vaccinations" were not supported by convincing evidence.
Ukraine is also continuing to vaccinate with the Indian version of AstraZeneca, Covishield.
What do scientists say?
Officials and immunologists in Europe are concerned that stopping the use of one of the continent's most common vaccines will cost vital time in the race against dangerous strains. They also fear that coronasceptics and anti-vaccinators may get a new topic for discussion.
The number of cases of blood clots corresponds to their usual frequency and without a vaccine, said professor of pharmacoepidemiology Stephen Evans, reports Reuters.
“The problem with spontaneous reporting of suspected vaccine adverse reactions is that it is extremely difficult to distinguish causal from coincidence,” he said.
Evans added that Covid-19 is strongly linked to blood clotting.
Phil Bryan, head of the UK's Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), said the reports of blood clots so far have not exceeded what would have happened naturally.
“The available data does not support the vaccine as the cause,” he said.
What did the company answer?
AstraZeneca responded on March 14 that the vaccine does not cause blood clotting problems.
A thorough analysis of all possible parameters related to the safety of the drug, based on data from 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and the UK, confirms that there is no increased risk of pulmonary embolism, vein thrombosis, or thrombocytopenia (a decrease in the number of platelets in the blood), the statement said. companies.
WHO and EMA experts will review AstraZeneca again
Vaccine safety experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) will gather on Tuesday to re-examine the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a temporary shutdown in several countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has said there is no reason to refuse the vaccine. WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said countries can continue to use the vaccine. The organization "does not want people to panic," she said, even if close monitoring of vaccine use continues. Swaminathan noted that there are no documented deaths associated with the vaccine.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will also meet on Tuesday. The European regulator will make the final decision on the use of Oxford-AstraZeneca on Thursday 18 March.
"The WHO Expert Commission on Vaccine Safety is reviewing all available data and is in close contact with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and will hold a meeting," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, CEO of the organization.
Earlier, the EMA regulator stated that there was no connection between the thrombosis cases and the AstraZeneca vaccination. However, EMA has begun investigating these cases.
The UK regulator, the MHRA, said that more than 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have already been used in the country, but there is no evidence that the drug contributes to blood clots.