AstraZeneca vaccine: Safety experts to review jab

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AstraZeneca vaccines (file pic)


Vaccine safety experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are meeting on Tuesday to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, after several European countries halted their rollouts.

A number of cases of blood clots were reported in Europe after the vaccine was administered.

But the numbers are below the level you would expect in the general population.

The UK medicines regulator and the WHO say there is no evidence of a link between the vaccine and clots.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) – the European Union’s medicines regulator – is also meeting on Tuesday.

It is expected to issue its decision on the continued use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination on Thursday.

About 17 million people in the EU and the UK have received a dose of the vaccine, with fewer than 40 cases of blood clots reported as of last week, AstraZeneca said.

Concerns that there could be a link prompted leading EU states to suspend use of the vaccine, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

Other countries, including Austria, have halted the use of certain batches of the drug as a precautionary measure.

However, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic and Ukraine said they would continue to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine.

And in Thailand, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha became the first person in the country to receive the AstraZeneca inoculation.

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Odds in favour of vaccination

Analysis box by Nick Triggle, health correspondent

It is understandable anyone going to get vaccinated would be concerned given these reports.

But the regulators in the UK and Europe are clear that vaccination should continue even though some individual nations have taken a different approach.

Why? It’s all to do with risk.

From what has been published so far the chance of a blood clot after vaccination is very low and at this stage looks like it could be in line with what you would expect to happen anyway – coincidence rather than cause.

In comparison, the risk from Covid to those currently being offered the vaccine is significant.

Most of continental Europe is still working its way through the over-70s.

If they are infected and have symptoms they have around a one in four chance of becoming seriously ill and needing hospital care.

In the UK those in their 50s are being invited. They have a one in 10 chance.

What is more, one of the most common consequences of serious Covid illness is blood clots.

When it comes to risk, the odds are clearly in favour of vaccination.

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What has the WHO said?

The UN’s health body says it is investigating the reports of blood clots. On Monday, a spokesman said there was “no evidence” that the incidents were linked to the vaccine.

“As soon as WHO has gained a full understanding of these events, the findings and any unlikely changes to current recommendations will be immediately communicated to the public,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.

The EMA – which is also currently carrying out a review into incidents of blood clots – said the vaccine could continue to be administered.

The agency said the benefits of having the vaccine outweighed the risks of any side effects.

The UK medicines regulator also said evidence “does not suggest” the jab causes clots, as it urged people in the country to get the vaccine when asked to do so.

What does AstraZeneca say?

The company says there is no evidence of an increased risk of clotting due to the vaccine.

It said that across the EU and the United Kingdom there had been 15 events of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) – a blood clot in a vein – and 22 events of pulmonary embolism – a blood clot that has entered the lungs – reported among those vaccinated.

These figures were “much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed Covid-19 vaccines”.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford vaccine group which developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab, told the BBC on Monday that there was “very reassuring evidence that there is no increase in a blood clot phenomenon here in the UK, where most of the doses in Europe [have] been given so far”.

Finland has also done a “very careful study” and not found an increased risk, he added.

He said it was “absolutely critical that we don’t have a problem of not vaccinating people”.

Chart showing the number of countries using each vaccine. Updated 12 March.

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