EXPLAINER: Why countries are halting the AstraZeneca shot

By: |
March 15, 2021 6:48 PM

The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization say the data available do not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunised. Here's a look at we know  and what we don't.

On Sunday, Ireland and the Netherlands announced that they, too, were stopping their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine temporarily.On Sunday, Ireland and the Netherlands announced that they, too, were stopping their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine temporarily.

In recent days, countries including Denmark, Ireland, and Thailand have temporarily suspended their use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine after reports that some people who got a dose developed blood clots, even though there’s no evidence that the shot was responsible.

The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization say the data available do not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunised. Here’s a look at we know  and what we don’t.

WHAT HAPPENED?
Denmark was the first country to halt its use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine last week after reports of blood clots in some people, including one person who developed multiple clots and died 10 days after receiving at least one dose.

Danish health authorities said the suspension would last for at least two weeks while the cases were investigated, even as they noted that at present, it cannot be concluded whether there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots.

Norway, Iceland, Bulgaria, Thailand, and Congo soon followed suit. On Saturday, Norwegian authorities reported that four people under age 50 who had gotten the AstraZeneca vaccine had an unusually low number of blood platelets. That could lead to severe bleeding.

On Sunday, Ireland and the Netherlands announced that they, too, were stopping their use of the AstraZeneca vaccine temporarily.

Authorities in the Netherlands  like those elsewhere  said their suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine was strictly precautionary. We must always err on the side of caution, which is why it is sensible to press the pause button now as a precaution, said Hugo de Jonge, the Dutch health minister.  Still, several other countries have stuck with the vaccine.

In response to the suspensions of its vaccine, AstraZeneca said it had carefully reviewed the data on 17 million people who received doses across Europe.

It said there was no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots in any age group or gender in any country.
IS THERE ANY PROOF THE VACCINE IS RESPONSIBLE?
No. The European Medicines Agency says there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions.”

The EU regulator said the number of reports of blood clots in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine was no higher than for those who hadn’t gotten the shot.

In Britain, where 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered  more than any other country  there have been reports of about 11 people who developed blood clots after getting a shot. None were proven to have been caused by the vaccine.

SO WHY DID THEY STOP VACCINATION?
Any time vaccines are rolled out widely, scientists expect some serious health issues and deaths to be reported  simply because millions of people are receiving the shots and problems would be expected to occur randomly in a group so large.

The vast majority of these end up not being connected to the vaccine, but because COVID-19 vaccines are still experimental, scientists must investigate every possibility that the shot could have some unforeseen side effects.
The shots are considered experimental because the vaccines were only developed in the last year, so there is no long-term data for any of them.

People die every day, and we have more than 300 million people globally who have been immunised who will die of other causes, said Dr. Mariangela Simao, an assistant director-general at WHO.

IS THIS A CONCERN WITH OTHER COVID-19 VACCINES? The EMA is currently examining whether COVID-19 shots made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna Inc. and AstraZeneca might be causing low levels of blood platelets in some patients, a condition that could lead to bruising and bleeding.

HAS ASTRAZENECA RUN INTO OTHER TROUBLE?
The vaccine has been approved for use in adults in more than 50 countries and has been proven to be safe and effective in research done in Britain, Brazil and South Africa.

But there have been concerns raised about how the vaccine data have been released, and some European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, have questioned the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Britain first authorised the vaccine based on partial results that suggested the shots were about 70 per cent effective. But those results were clouded by a manufacturing mistake that led some participants to get just a half dose in their first shot  an error the researchers didn’t immediately acknowledge.

When it recommended the vaccine be licensed, the EMA estimated the vaccine’s efficacy to be about 60 per cent.
The data on whether the vaccine protected older adults were also incomplete, leading some European countries to initially withhold the shot from older people.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration suspended a study in 30,000 Americans for an unusual six weeks, as frustrated regulators sought information about some possible side effects reported in Britain.

All the data we have seen about the AstraZeneca vaccine suggests it’s very safe and is saving people from dying of COVID,” said Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia. SO WHAT ARE EXPERTS TELLING PEOPLE TO DO?

The WHO and the EMA  as well as regulators in several countries  say people should continue to be immunised and that the risk of getting vaccinated far outweighs any potential harm.

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