Doctors respond as EU countries suspend shot

A healthcare worker prepares a syringe with the dose of AstraZeneca Covid-19 at Coria City Hospital, Spain.

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LONDON – Health experts say they are disappointed and confused about the suspension of the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, and warn that there is not enough data yet to justify these decisions.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain on Monday joined a fast-growing list of European countries that suspended the use of the vaccine as a precaution after reports of blood clots.

Other countries, such as Austria, have temporarily suspended use of certain groups of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Thailand on Friday became the first Asian country to stop using the shot due to security concerns.

The United Kingdom, Canada and Australia – which continue to develop the vaccine – are one of the countries that want to reassure citizens about its benefits.

The World Health Organization, the European Medicines Regulator and the International Society for Thrombosis and Hemostasis have all recommended that countries continue to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

There are still no signs of any data justifying these decisions.

Michael Head

Senior Research Fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton

“The decisions of France, Germany and other countries seem staggering,” 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 side effects associated with blood clots is the same (and possibly, in fact lower) in vaccinated groups compared to non-vaccinated population,” he added.

“The cessation of vaccination of a vaccine during a pandemic has consequences. It leads to delays in the protection of people, and the possibility of increased hesitant vaccines due to people who saw the headlines and became understandable. There are yet no signs of any data really justifying these decisions, ”Head added.

WTO experts will meet on Tuesday to examine the safety of the shot.

The European Medicines Agency, which also evaluates the safety of the drug, said there was no indication that it was causing blood clots, adding that he believed the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.

What did AstraZeneca say?

More than 17 million people in the European Union and the United Kingdom have received a dose of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with less than 40 cases of blood clots since last week, AstraZeneca said in a statement.

The pharmaceutical giant said that in the EU and the UK, 15 incidents of deep vein thrombosis and 22 incidents of pulmonary embolism have been reported among those vaccinated.

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

The EMA also said that the available data so far have shown that the number of blood clots in vaccines is not higher than that among the general population.

A bottle of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Igor Petyx | KONTROLAB | LightRocket via Getty Images

Europe’s caution about the drug has exacerbated the misery of the region’s vaccination campaign and comes at a time when the German public health agency has warned that a third wave of coronavirus infections has already begun.

Dr Stephen Griffin, associate professor of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said the news that many countries in Europe had suspended the deployment of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was ‘disappointing’.

‘As many European countries are currently experiencing a new revival of SARS-CoV2 infections and are still lagging behind in terms of rollout, the importance of vaccination of vaccination programs cannot be underestimated, and the damage caused by people deprived of access ‘to a vaccine probably weighs much heavier than even the worst case if any connection is finally found with the coagulation disorders,’ Griffin said.

“It should also be noted that nationwide gestures like this are likely to fuel hesitation, or more extreme anti-vaccine sentiment, which further undermines the vaccination effort,” he added.

How does the vaccine work?

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is a shot designed to prevent the coronavirus in people 18 years and older. It consists of an adenovirus adapted to contain the gene for the production of a protein of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. As such, the vaccine does not contain the virus and cannot cause Covid.

The most common side effects of the shot are usually mild or moderate and improve within a few days after vaccination.

In late-stage clinical trials, the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot was found to have an average efficacy of 70% to protect the virus.

“We are examining reports carefully, but the available evidence does not indicate that the vaccine is the cause,” said Dr. Phil Bryan, a vaccine safety leader at the Regulatory Agency for Medicines and Healthcare Products, said.

“Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon. More than 11 million doses of the AZ vaccine have now been administered across the UK, and the number of blood clots reported after vaccination does not exceed the number that would occur naturally. in the vaccinated population, ”he continued.

“We are working closely with international peers to understand the global safety experience of COVID-19 vaccines and to quickly share safety data and reports. People still need to fetch their COVID-19 vaccine when asked to do so,” he said. Bryan said. .

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