An Army health worker prepares a dose of Covishield, AstraZeneca / Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine from the Indian Serum Institute at an Army hospital in Colombo on January 29, 2021.
ishara S. Kodikara | AFP | Getty Images
LONDON – Two other countries decided on Tuesday to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe amid blood clot concerns as regulators conducted a new side effects review.
Sweden and Latvia announced Tuesday morning that they are suspending the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine developed with Oxford University. Portugal, Luxembourg and Slovenia decided to stop using the shot on Monday evening. Earlier in the day, Germany, France, Italy and Spain also joined the group of nations that stopped using the vaccine.
So far, 13 countries in the European Union have made this decision, while a few others have stopped using individual lots of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Austria first decided last week after the death of a 49-year-old woman who received this vaccine to stop using a certain batch of AstraZeneca shots.
The European health authority has insisted that “the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with the associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects”.
In a statement on Monday, the European Medicines Agency said it would “look further into the information” and called an extraordinary meeting on Thursday on the subject. The institution then reiterated its position during a press conference on Tuesday.
“There is currently no evidence that vaccination caused these conditions,” said Emer Cooke, director of the European Medicines Agency. “The benefits still outweigh the risks, but this is a serious problem and requires serious and detailed scientific assessment. We are currently involved in that.”
She added, “We are concerned that this could affect vaccine confidence … but our job is to make sure the products we approve are safe.”
The World Health Organization has urged nations to continue their vaccination campaigns with the AstraZeneca vaccine and Oxford University.
A number of EU countries have spoken out in favor of the shot. In Belgium, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on Monday that interrupting use was “irresponsible”. While the authorities in the Czech Republic have also announced that they will continue to administer the vaccine.
Outside the EU, Canada, Australia and the UK have also joined forces to support AstraZeneca.
According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, more than 6 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot have been administered in the EU to date.
AstraZeneca announced on Sunday that of the 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and the UK, 15 had deep vein thrombosis events and 22 cases of pulmonary embolism. This is based on data received as of March 8th.
“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,” the company said in a statement.
Concerns about the vaccine could jeopardize the EU’s goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of the summer. The AstraZeneca vaccine has proven popular in Europe so far because it is cheaper than its competitors and easier to store. This could then possibly delay the economic recovery in the region.
“Of course we need speed, not only for the economy, but above all for the health of our citizens, but at the same time we need security,” said Paolo Gentiloni of the European Commission at a press conference on Monday.
He added that the precautionary measures were “justified” and that the EMA review should “keep our EU citizens safe”.