A healthcare worker prepares a syringe with the dose of AstraZeneca Covid-19 in Coria City Hospital, Spain.
Gustavo Valiente | SOPA pictures | LightRocket via Getty Images
LONDON – Health professionals are disappointed and confused about the numerous suspensions of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. They warn that there is not enough data to justify these decisions.
Sweden and Latvia on Tuesday joined a rapidly growing list of European countries stopping use of the vaccine as a precautionary measure after reports of blood clots. Germany, France, Italy and Spain said Monday they would all stop administering the shot.
Other countries such as Austria have temporarily stopped using certain lots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Thailand became the first Asian nation on Friday to stop using the shot because of safety concerns.
The UK, Canada and Australia, which continue to use the vaccine, are among the countries trying to reassure citizens about its benefits.
The World Health Organization, the European Medicines Agency and the International Society on Thrombosis and Hemostasis have recommended that countries continue to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
There is still no evidence of data to really justify these decisions.
Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton
“The decisions made by France, Germany and other countries look amazing,” said Dr. Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, UK
“The data we have suggests that the number of blood clot-related adverse events is the same (and possibly fewer) in vaccinated groups compared to non-vaccinated populations,” he continued.
“Pausing the introduction of a vaccine during a pandemic has consequences. This creates delays in protecting people and a possible delay in vaccine due to people who have seen the headlines and are understandably concerned. There is still no evidence of data that really justify these decisions, “added Head.
WHO experts will meet on Tuesday to review the safety of the shot.
The European Medicines Agency, which also evaluates the drug’s safety, says there is no evidence that it causes blood clots and believes the benefits of the vaccine “continue to outweigh the risks”.
What did AstraZeneca say?
More than 17 million people in the European Union and the United Kingdom have received a dose of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. As of last week, fewer than 40 cases of blood clots had been reported, AstraZeneca said in a statement.
The pharmaceutical company said that 15 events involving deep vein thrombosis and 22 events involving pulmonary embolism were reported among those vaccinated in the EU and the United Kingdom.
“This is much less than expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size, and it is similar to other approved COVID-19 vaccines,” said AstraZeneca.
The EMA has also said that the data available so far showed that the number of blood clots in vaccinated people is no higher than in the general population.
A bottle of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Igor Petyx | KONTROLAB | LightRocket via Getty Images
Europe’s caution regarding the drug has exacerbated the problems of the battered vaccination campaign in the region and comes at a time when the German health department has warned that a third wave of coronavirus infections has already begun.
Dr. Stephen Griffin, associate professor in the University of Leeds School of Medicine, said the news that many countries in Europe had suspended the introduction of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was “disappointing”.
“With many European countries currently experiencing a resurgence of SARS-CoV2 infections and still lagging behind on adoption, the importance of continuing vaccination programs and the harm done by people having access to one should not be underestimated Vaccine denied will do. ” even the worst-case scenarios probably outweigh the odds, if at some point a connection to the coagulation disorders is found, “said Griffin.
“It should also be noted that nationwide gestures like these inevitably create hesitation or a more extreme sentiment towards vaccines and further undermine vaccination efforts,” he added.
How does the vaccine work?
The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine is designed to prevent coronavirus in people aged 18 and over. It’s made up of an adenovirus that has been modified to contain the gene to make a protein from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Therefore, the vaccine does not contain a virus and cannot cause Covid.
The most common side effects of the shot are typically mild or moderate and get better within a few days after vaccination.
In late clinical studies, the AstraZeneca Oxford shot was found to have an average of 70% effectiveness in protecting against the virus.
“We are carefully reviewing the reports, but the evidence available does not suggest that the vaccine is the cause,” said Dr. Phil Bryan, Vaccine Safety Director for the UK Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency.
“Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon. In the UK, more than 11 million doses of the AZ vaccine have now been given and the number of blood clots reported after the vaccine is no more than the number that would have occurred naturally in the UK of the vaccinated population, “he continued.
“We are working closely with international colleagues to understand the global safety experience of COVID-19 vaccines and to share safety data and reports quickly. People should still get their COVID-19 vaccine when prompted,” said Bryan.