A growing number of countries are fully or partially suspending the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, as the World Health Organization – WHO is reviewing the available vaccine data.
“This does not necessarily mean these events are linked to COVID-19 vaccination, but it’s routine practice to investigate them, and it shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Tuesday.
The WHO’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety is reviewing the available data and is scheduled to meet on Tuesday for further discussion.
Tedros said the WHO was aware multiple countries had suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine following reports of blood clots in people who had received the vaccine from two batches produced in Europe.
Suspension of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines WHO reviews vaccine data Investigation
France, Spain, Germany and Italy on Monday announced their suspension of the vaccine.
French President Emmanuel Macron suspended the use of the vaccine in the country as a precaution for at least 24 hours. The halt overshadowed the first day of French pharmacies carrying out COVID-19 vaccinations.
“The decision has been made to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution [and we are] hoping that we can resume it quickly if the judgment of the EMA allows it,” Macron told a news conference.
He added: “We have a simple guide, to be informed by science and the competent health authorities and to do it as part of a European strategy.”
The decision reverses previous guidance from French health authorities and overshadowed the first day of French pharmacies carrying out COVID-19 vaccinations.
All French drug stores hoping to offer the vaccine were scheduled to use the AstraZeneca dose. Only a small number of vaccines could be carried out before the suspension was announced.
France is trying to make up ground on its neighbours after a slow start to its inoculation strategy, which was beset by logistical bottlenecks and problems with deliveries from vaccine makers.
The move to open up the vaccine campaign to pharmacies was part of a drive to accelerate the inoculation program at a time when France is struggling to contain a third wave of infections.
France has the world’s sixth-highest total of COVID-19 cases and is facing a deteriorating situation, especially in the north, east and capital regions.
Some patients in need of urgent care have already been evacuated from the Greater Paris region by plane.
The occupancy rate of intensive care beds in the Paris capital region is 96 percent, with more than 4,000 people being treated for COVID-19 in urgent care wards.
Charter planes have taken some patients from Paris to Bordeaux, where hospitals have more capacity to deal with infections.
Others will travel in special high-speed trains kitted out to be able to transfer multiple patients at the same time.
Macron warned: “We will have to take new measures without a doubt in the coming days.”
A nationwide curfew has been in place in France since mid-December 2020 and some areas are under weekend lockdowns.
Spain announced a minimum 15-day suspension effective immediately, while Germany said it would stop administering the AstraZeneca vaccine on the same day.
Italy’s suspension expanded nationwide as a precautionary measure after its northern region announced a halt in use following the death of a local teacher on Sunday who was inoculated one day before.
Suspension of AstraZeneca vaccines due to safety concerns
As of Tuesday, countries that announced the suspension of the vaccine are piling up. Besides France, Germany, Spain and Italy, European countries including the Netherlands, Ireland, Cyprus, Denmark, Austria, Iceland, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have already suspended the vaccine.
Thailand on Friday became the first Asian country to halt the use of the jab over safety concerns.
AstraZeneca said on Sunday a review of safety data of people vaccinated with its COVID-19 vaccine has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.
“An analysis of our safety data of more than 10 million records has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country with COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca,” a spokesperson for AstraZeneca said.
“In fact, the observed number of these types of events is significantly lower in those vaccinated than what would be expected among the general population.”
Late last week, the European Medicines Agency stressed that there was no indication the shot was causing blood clots, adding that it believes the vaccine’s benefits “continue to outweigh its risks.” The WHO also said, “There is no indication to not use it.”
Suspension of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines WHO reviews vaccine data