- BBC World News
Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other European countries suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine on Monday despite the WHO’s request to continue its administration.
The World Health Organization (WHO) insists that there is no evidence linking this vaccine with the appearance of blood clots, which is why several European countries decided to stop its application.
The WHO vaccine safety experts are meeting this Tuesday to analyze this case.
Also this Tuesday the European Medicines Agency (AEM) and is expected to issue its findings on Thursday. He also agrees with the WHO that the UK-developed vaccine should continue to be used.
An estimated 17 million people in the UK and European Union have already received one dose of the vaccine and fewer than 40 cases of clots were reported as of last week, according to AstraZeneca data.
Experts, however, say that number is no higher than the cases reported in the general population.
What measures have been taken?
The German Ministry of Health announced on Monday that it was immediately stopping administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, thus following the instructions of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, the country’s authority on vaccines.
“This is due to the information of cerebral thrombosis cases connected with vaccination with AstraZeneca,” said the Minister of Health, Jens Spahn.
The minister said the decision “is not political.” “We are all aware of the consequences of this decision and we do not take it lightly,” he added.
Shortly after, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said that his country also suspends the use of the vaccine until the AEM decides.
“We have a very simple guide: let science and the competent health authorities inform us and act as part of a European strategy,” Macron said.
The same decision was taken by Italy and Spain, in addition to the previous one by the Netherlands, Ireland, Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria, Iceland and Slovenia. Outside of Europe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia postponed the start of vaccination with that brand.
Other countries, such as Canada, will continue to use it.
What do the WHO and other experts say?
The WHO spokesperson, Christian Lindmeiersaid the entity is investigating the reports.
“As soon as the WHO is clear about the whole picture of these events, the conclusions and any unlikely changes to the current recommendations, we will communicate it to the public,” he said.
“To this day, there is no evidence that the incidents were caused by the vaccine and it is important that the vaccination campaign continues to save lives and avoid the most severe cases of disease.”
The AEM, which is doing its own investigation of the incidents, said the vaccine can continue to be used.
The UK drug regulator also said the evidence “does not suggest” that the injection causes clots and called for the population to be vaccinated when prompted to do so.
The teacher Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford University vaccine group that developed the vaccine, told the BBC that there is “very strong evidence that there is no increased risk of clots in the UK, where more doses of this vaccine have been given in Europe “.
The right to ask questions
By Michelle Roberts, BBC Health Editor
The pause in the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is not because it is unsafe, but because it buys time for experts to investigate why a small number of people who recently received it later developed blood clots.
When a disease appears shortly after vaccination, it is correct to ask whether it had something to do with it or not.
There is, however, no evidence that the vaccine is related or responsible.
In the UK, more than 11 million people have already received at least one dose of AstraZeneca and there have been no signs of excess deaths or clots. The European regulator also supports the vaccine by saying that its benefits are in sight.
Covid-19 can be deadly and vaccination can save lives.
What does AstraZeneca say?
The drug company insists there is no evidence of an increased risk of clots from the vaccine.
He said that in the European Union and the United Kingdom there have been 15 cases of acute thrombosis -a clot in a vein- and 22 pulmonary embolism -a clot that enters the lungs- among the millions of vaccinated.
“Figures much lower than naturally expected in a general population of that size and similar to those of other covid-19 vaccines.”
“The nature of the pandemic leads to increasing attention to individual cases and by reporting these cases we are going beyond the usual standards of monitoring approved drugs to ensure the public safety of all,” he said Ann Taylor, the company’s chief physician.
Does Europe have a problem with the vaccine?
It is not the first time that countries in Europe have been cautious with the AstraZeneca vaccine.
They did not initially recommend its use for those over 65 years of age. President Macron said then that it was “practically ineffective” in these cases.
Now that decision was reversed because there was no evidence to the contrary of its use.
Germany and France have supplies of the vaccine that could be lost, as both have used less than half the AstraZeneca doses received so far. That makes them more dependent on the Pfizer vaccine.
And this could have deadly consequences. France, Germany and other large European countries have high infection rates and face the possibility that things will get worse before they get better, he writes. Nick Triggle, BBC Health correspondent.
Why a brave decision can be the best
The UK ignored doubts about the use of vaccines in people over 65.
These arose from the clinical trials themselves, where young people were privileged. Soon after, the United Kingdom reported “spectacular” results in reducing levels of severe disease in people over 80 years of age.
This led the country to recommend spacing the two doses up to three months, something that in principle went against the trials.
But as it is known that in the two-dose vaccines the greatest protection is given by the first, the United Kingdom, which at the beginning of the year had a large increase in cases, decided to maximize the number of first doses to protect more people.
The teacher David mirror holder, an expert from the University of Cambridge, says that this shows that sometimes you have to look beyond the precautionary principle and be courageous in your decision-making.
“Caution favors inaction as a way to reduce risk. But the problem is that these are not normal times and inaction can be more risky than action,” he says.
“Sometimes it can be painful to wait for certainty. Not vaccinating people is going to cost lives.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.