© Reuters. The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine suspended in France
By Caroline Copley, Matthias Blamont and Giulia Segreti
BERLIN (Reuters) – Global health experts came under increasing pressure on Tuesday to clarify questions about the safety of AstraZeneca's (NASDAQ 🙂 's COVID-19 shot as Sweden and Latvia joined countries discontinuing their use for yet another blow to the European one Roll out vaccination discontinued.
So far, a handful of cases of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts have occurred compared to 45 million doses of various vaccines given in the European Union and its close neighbors. Germany has reported seven such cases, three of which died, out of 1.6 million people who received AstraZeneca.
A panel of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) examined the cases and was in dialogue with the European Medicines Agency (EMA), an EU regulatory authority that was scheduled to hold a press conference at 1300 GMT.
The largest EU members – Germany, France and Italy – suspended AstraZeneca's vaccine on Monday pending research into unusual cases of rare brain thrombosis in people who received it.
The addition of Sweden and Latvia on Tuesday got more than a dozen EU countries to action since reports of thromboembolism in humans were first published following the AstraZeneca shot.
The WHO and EMA, along with AstraZeneca, had previously said there was no proven link, but some experts said that rare cases of highly unusual brain thrombosis in younger people suggest a causal link with the AstraZeneca shot.
"The benefits of a vaccination clearly outweigh the risks, especially for the elderly," said Karl Lauterbach, health spokesman for the Social Democratic Party of Germany.
"However, it can happen that the risk of the vaccine is higher for certain patient groups such as young women. It is possible that the EMA issues specific warnings," he said in an interview with Radio Deutschlandfunk.
European epidemiologists remained puzzled that similar cases had not occurred in unusual numbers in the UK. The company started using AstraZeneca earlier and has delivered more than 10 million doses.
"It remains the case that a very likely explanation for at least some of the coagulation disorders observed is due to Covid-19 rather than the vaccine," said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
"There are published articles that make it clear that these problems definitely occur with COVID-19, and there is no doubt that any vaccines used prevent this disease. Therefore, the risk / benefit balance for the AstraZeneca vaccine remains clearly in favor its advantages. ""
Graphic: Vaccine launch across EU by brand – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qzjpqlwaqvx/vaccine%20rollout.PNG
In the largest EU countries, including Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, AstraZeneca has taken around 13 to 15% of recordings since the rollout began almost three months ago, with Pfizer-BioNTech making up the majority according to official data.
Nicola Magrini, director general of the Italian Medicines Agency AIFA, told the daily la Repubblica in an interview that the decision to suspend the AstraZeneca shot was "political".
He said it was safe and the benefit-risk ratio was "largely positive". There have been eight deaths and four cases of serious side effects in Italy following vaccinations, he added.
In France, Health Minister Olivier Veran told reporters the risk / reward balance for the AstraZeneca vaccine remained positive.
Governments say they acted out of caution, but the move deprives them of much-needed doses to fuel vaccination campaigns, which have got off to a sluggish start due to the scarcity of supply.
AstraZeneca said last week it will attempt to deliver 30 million cans to the European Union by the end of March after making a contractual commitment of 90 million and an earlier commitment last month to deliver 40 million cans.
Still, the European Commission announced on Tuesday that it would receive more than 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer (NYSE 🙂 and BioNTech in Q2, putting the EU on track to meet its vaccination target.
The EU aims to vaccinate at least 255 million people, or 70% of its adult population, by the end of the summer. The block has so far administered 11 shots per 100 residents, while Israel – a world leader in vaccinations – has administered 108 doses, according to Our World in Data.
At the same time, a third wave of infections, triggered by more infectious virus variants, threatens to worsen the year-long European coronavirus pandemic that killed 575,000 people and further delay recovery from an economic slump in the pandemic.
Deutsche Bank (DE 🙂 on Tuesday lowered its forecasts for economic growth in 2021 for the euro area by a whole percentage point, citing the ongoing pandemic-related activity restrictions.
Sources said Germany had no choice but to act after its vaccine watchdog detected an unusually high number of rare cerebral vein thrombosis cases. Out of 1.6 million people in Germany who got AstraZeneca, seven fell ill and three died.
Still, the risk of dying from COVID is still orders of magnitude higher, especially among the most vulnerable people like the elderly, said Dirk Brockmann, epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases.
"It is probably 100,000 times more likely to die from COVID than from an AstraZeneca vaccine," Brockmann told ARD public television.
(Matthias Blamont reported from PARIS, Giulia Segreti from ROM and Caroline Copley from BERLIN; additional reports from Kate Kelland, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Matthieu Protard, Andreas Rinke, Francesco Guarascio, Anna Ringstrom, Johan Ahlander and Andrius Sytas; writing by Douglas Busvine ;; Editing by Josephine Mason and Philippa Fletcher)