LONDON – Ireland and the Netherlands have joined the growing list of countries that have stopped using the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University because of blood clot concerns.
The Dutch government said Sunday that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would not be used until March 29, while Ireland said earlier in the day it had temporarily suspended the shot as a precautionary measure.
The World Health Organization tried to downplay the ongoing safety concerns and stated last week that there was no link between the shot and an increased risk of developing blood clots. The United Nations Health Department has urged countries to continue using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Even so, some European countries have already stopped using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. It added to the worries of the battered vaccination campaign in the region when the German health department warned that a third wave of coronavirus infections had already begun.
Thailand has also stopped the planned use of the vaccine.
The move to suspend use by Dutch and Irish officials came shortly after the Norwegian Medicines Agency announced that three health workers were hospitalized for bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Norway has suspended its vaccination program against Oxford-AstraZeneca.
Geir Bukholm, director of the Infection Control and Environmental Health Department at the Norwegian Public Health Institute, said the Norwegian Medicines Agency will "follow up on these suspected side effects and take the necessary action in this serious situation".
The picture taken on November 27, 2020 shows "Nikki" Anniken Hars treating a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit of the Rikshospitalet University Hospital in Oslo, Norway.
JIL YNGLAND | AFP | Getty Images
The European Medicines Agency, the European Medicines Agency, also said there is no evidence that Oxford-AstraZeneca's vaccine causes blood clots and that the vaccine's benefits "continue to outweigh the risks".
The EMA admitted that some European countries had stopped using the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot, but said vaccinations may continue to be given while a clot investigation is ongoing.
How did AstraZeneca react?
"A careful review of all available safety data on more than 17 million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in the European Union (EU) and the UK found no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis ( DVT) or thrombocytopenia in a certain age group, gender, group or country, "AstraZeneca said in a statement on Sunday.
The most common side effects of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, which does not contain the virus and cannot cause Covid, are usually mild or moderate and improve within a few days after vaccination.
A health worker holds a box of the AstraZeneneca vaccine at the Bamrasnaradura Institute for Infectious Diseases in Nonthaburi Province on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Chaiwat subprasome | SOPA pictures | LightRocket via Getty Images
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 UK.
"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.
What do the experts say?
"Covid definitely causes bleeding disorders and each of the vaccines prevents Covid disease, including more severe cases," said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
"Therefore, it is highly likely that the vaccine's benefits will significantly outweigh the risk of clotting disorders, and the vaccine will prevent other consequences of Covid, including deaths from other causes."
Evans said it was "perfectly reasonable" to conduct studies on vaccines and coagulation disorders, but added, "It seems a step too far to take precautionary measures that would prevent people from receiving vaccines that prevent disease."
Many high-income countries – such as the UK, France, Australia and Canada – have decided to continue rolling out the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
"When there is clear evidence of serious or life-threatening side effects that have important consequences," Adam Finn, professor of pediatrics at Bristol University, said in a statement.
"So far, however, this has not been the case, and it is highly undesirable to disrupt a complex and urgent program every time people, after receiving a vaccine, develop illnesses that are random and not causal. In situations like this, it is not easy to Making the right call, but a steady hand on the tiller is probably what is needed most, "said Finn.