Several countries have suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over fears that it may have caused recipients to develop blood clots.
The vaccine was developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford in Britain, where more than 11 million doses have been administered apparently without any major problems.
In recent news, the Dutch Government halted the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine after ten cases of blood clots potentially linked to the vaccine were reported in the Netherlands.
Ireland and the Netherlands became the latest countries to suspend their use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine out of precaution.
Denmark, Norway and Iceland have also paused their rollout of the jab.
AstraZeneca on Sunday (14 Mar) said there was no evidence of increased blood clots from the jab after outcomes from 17 million doses were analysed.
The pharmaceutical company said the 15 incidences of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and 22 events of pulmonary embolism reported among those given the vaccine was “much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population”.
“The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases and we are going beyond the standard practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety,” said chief medical officer Ann Taylor.
“In terms of quality, there are also no confirmed issues related to any batch of our vaccine used across Europe, or the rest of the world.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have both said there is no evidence the use of the jab should be suspended.
Latvian health authorities on Monday (15 Mar) said they will temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, following the lead of other countries to have paused rollouts over blood clot fears.
Latvia’s “health authorities are asking doctors not to use the opened vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine and not to open new ones,” the Baltic state’s health agencies said in a joint statement.
They said they were halting the use of the vaccine “as a precautionary measure” based on reports of side effects from other EU countries, while adding that no such cases have been confirmed in Latvia.
The measure will be in effect for up to two weeks, they added.
Portugal has followed the lead of other EU countries and stopped rolling out AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine after reports of “serious but rare” side effects, health chief Graca Freitas said on Monday (15 Mar).
The decision was taken “as a precaution” pending advice from the EU’s regulator, said Freitas, head of Portugal’s public health agency.
Portugal has already administered some 400,000 doses of the vaccine and has 200,000 in stock, said Henrique Gouveia Melo, head of the vaccination programme, in a news conference.
Spain is suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for at least a fortnight, the health minister said on Monday (15 Mar).
“We have decided to temporarily suspend (use of the AstraZeneca vaccine) as a precaution for at least the next two weeks,” Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters just hours after Germany, France and Italy announced similar moves.
She said the decision would remain in place until the EMA “analyses the recent incidences of blood clots, notably over the weekend”.
Italy joined other European nations in blocking the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine over fears of a link to blood clots, pending a review by the EU regulator.
The decision by Italian medicines agency AIFA came after talks between Health Minister Roberto Speranza and the ministers in Germany, France and Spain, his office said.
“The choices made and shared today by the main European countries on AstraZeneca have been taken purely as a precautionary measure pending the next decisive meeting of the European Medicines Agency,” Speranza said in a statement.
“We are confident that the European agency will already in the next few hours be able to definitively clarify this issue.”
Earlier, the regulator said it had “decided to extend the ban on the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine throughout Italy as a precautionary and temporary measure pending European Medicines Agency (EMA) rulings.”
Germany on Monday (15 Mar) halted the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine after reported blood clotting incidents in Europe, saying that a closer look was necessary.
“After new reports of thromboses of the cerebral veins in connection with the vaccination in Germany and Europe, the PEI considers further investigations to be necessary,” said the German health ministry, referring to a recommendation by the country’s vaccine authority, the Paul Ehrlich Institute.
“The European Medicines Agency EMA will decide whether and how the new findings will affect the approval of the vaccine,” it added.
Indonesia will delay the rollout of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 jab pending a review by the WHO into blood clot fears, the Southeast Asian nation’s health minister said on Monday.
“To be conservative, (Indonesian health regulators) are delaying the implementation of AstraZeneca while waiting for confirmation from WHO,” Budi Gunadi Sadikin told parliament.
The move comes after Ireland and the Netherlands became the latest countries to suspend AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shots over blood clot concerns despite the drugmaker and the WHO insisting there is no risk.
Indonesia, the world’s fourth most-populous nation, received 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab this month with another 10 million more expected by late April.
So far, the sprawling archipelago has been relying on a jab developed by China’s Sinovac as it rolls out an ambitious plan to inoculate more than 181 million of its nearly 270 million people within a year.
Indonesia is one of the hardest-hit countries in Asia with more than 1.4 million infections and nearly 39,000 deaths, although the true toll is thought to be higher.
Slovenia’s Government said on Monday that it was joining other European nations in suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 jab as a precaution over blood clot fears.
Health Minister Janez Poklukar said the Government had taken the decision in order to “ensure the highest possible level” of safety.
“There is no medical expertise justifying this halt” but it is a preventive measure pending an opinion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), he said.
President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France will suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“The decision has been made… to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, hoping that we can resume it quickly if the judgement of the EMA allows it,” Macron told a press conference.
“We have a simple guide, to be informed by science and the competent heath authorities and to do it as part of a European strategy,” he said.
Macron said the suspension was, for now, effective until the EMA delivers its opinion.
The decision reverses previous guidance from French health authorities to continue using the jab and came just a day after French Prime Minister Jean Castex had defended the vaccine.
“At this stage, we must have confidence in this vaccine,” Castex said on Sunday.
“If not, we’ll have delays with our vaccinations and French people will be less protected and the health crisis will last longer.”
Speaking alongside Macron at the press conference in southwest France, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced no change for Spain, but said it was important “to give a message of guarantee and safety to the whole of the European population regarding the vaccination process.”
Macron also said that the French Government would have “decisions to take” in the next few days in order to control the spread of COVID-19 cases after an uptick in cases and a rise in hospitalisations.
“We will probably have new decisions to take in the coming days,” Macron said.
He said the Government needed to look at “the reality of the epidemic, town by town, region by region: it’s what we are doing.”
Venezuela announced on Monday that it would not authorize AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, as the three largest European countries suspended their rollouts of the jab.
“Venezuela will not authorize the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the process of immunizing our population due to complications” in vaccinated patients, vice president Delcy Rodriguez said on public television.
“Taking into account the technical difficulties, President Nicolas Maduro had decided… not to approve and not to license this vaccine in Venezuelan territory.”
Venezuela — which began its coronavirus vaccination campaign in February with Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm jabs — had reserved between 1.4 and 2.4 million AstraZeneca doses through the Covax plan created by the WHO for the poorest countries.
None of those vaccines, however, has arrived due to Venezuela’s debt to the WHO.
Maduro recently asked the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to release $300 million from the Bank of England that was blocked by sanctions imposed on Venezuela and its state oil company PDVSA in an attempt to oust the socialist leader from power.