Ireland, Netherlands suspend AstraZeneca vaccine amid blood clot fears

LONDON – Ireland and the Netherlands have joined the growing list of countries that have suspended use of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford over concerns about blood clots.

The Dutch government said on Sunday that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would not be used until at least March 29, while Ireland said earlier that day that it had temporarily suspended the injection as a precaution.

The World Health Organization has tried to downplay the ongoing safety concerns, saying last week that there is no link between the injection and an increased risk of developing blood clots. The United Nations health agency has urged countries to continue using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Despite this, several European countries have already stopped the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It has added to the woes of the region’s unhealthy vaccination campaign at a time when Germany’s public health agency has warned that a third wave of coronavirus infections has already begun.

Thailand has also halted planned deployment of the vaccine.

The move to stop its use by Dutch and Irish officials came shortly after Norway’s drug agency said it had been notified that three healthcare workers were being treated at the hospital for bleeding, blood clots and a low platelet count after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Norway has suspended its Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine program.

Geir Bukholm, director of the Division of Infection Control and Environmental Health at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, said the Norwegian drug agency “will monitor these suspected side effects and take the necessary action in this dire situation.”

A photograph taken on November 27, 2020 shows “Nikki” Anniken Hars treating a patient with Covid-19 in the intensive care unit of Oslo Rikshospitalet University Hospital in Oslo, Norway.

JIL YNGLAND | AFP | fake images

The European drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency, has also said there is no indication that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is causing blood clots, adding that it believes the benefits of the vaccine “continue to outweigh its risks.”

The EMA acknowledged that some European countries had stopped the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca injection, but said the vaccines could continue to be administered while an investigation of the blood clot cases is under way.

How has AstraZeneca responded?

“A careful review of all available safety data from more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union (EU) and UK with the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, thrombosis deep vein (DVT) or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, lot or in any particular country, “AstraZeneca said in a statement Sunday.

The most common side effects of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which does not contain the virus and cannot cause Covid, are typically mild to moderate and improve within a few days of vaccination.

A health worker holds a box of AstraZeneneca vaccine at the Bamrasnaradura Infectious Diseases Institute in Nonthaburi province, outside Bangkok.

Chaiwat Subprasom | Images SOPA | LightRocket via Getty Images

The pharmaceutical giant said that in the EU and the UK there were 15 deep vein thrombosis events and 22 pulmonary embolism events among those vaccinated.

“This is much lower than what would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar in other licensed COVID-19 vaccines,” AstraZeneca said.

What do the experts say?

“Covid definitely causes bleeding disorders and every single vaccine prevents Covid disease, including the most severe cases,” said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“Therefore, it is highly likely that the benefit of the vaccine significantly outweighs any risk of bleeding disorders, and the vaccine prevents other consequences of Covid, including deaths from other causes.”

Evans said it was “completely reasonable” to conduct studies on vaccines and bleeding disorders, but added: “It seems like a step too far in taking precautions that would prevent people from getting vaccines that prevent disease.”

Many high-income countries, such as the UK, France, Australia, and Canada, have chosen to continue their respective roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

“If clear evidence of serious or life-threatening side effects emerges, that will have significant consequences,” Adam Finn, professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol, said in a statement.

“However, until now this has not been the case and it is highly undesirable to interrupt a complex and urgent program every time people develop diseases after receiving a vaccine that may be coincidental and not causally related. Make the right decision in situations like this. it’s not easy, but A steady hand on the wheel is probably what is most needed, “said Finn.


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