The World Health Organization on Monday said that countries should continue using the coronavirus vaccines developed by British-Swedish company AstraZeneca even as several European nations suspended its use over fears of blood clots, reported AFP.
“We do not want people to panic and we would, for the time being, recommend that countries continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said at a press briefing.
Her comments came after France, Germany and Italy joined the list of countries suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed in collaboration with Oxford University, according to Reuters.
At the press briefing, Swaminathan said no causal link has yet been established between clotting and the vaccine. “So far we do not find an association between these events and the vaccine because the rates at which these events have occurred in the vaccinated group are, in fact, less than what you would expect in the general population at the same time,” the chief scientist said.
Mariangela Simao, WHO’s assistant director general for access to medicines and health products, shared Swaminathan’s views. “So far it doesn’t look like there are more cases than would be expected for the period in the general population,” she said.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said its vaccine safety experts were looking at the data and would meet on Tuesday. The European Medicines Agency will also hold a special meeting on Thursday.
He stressed that the decisions of countries to suspend vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab were precautionary. “This does not necessarily mean that these events are linked to vaccination,” the WHO chief said. “It is routine practice to investigate them and it shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place.”
Experts at the WHO have also stressed that the suspension of the vaccine when cases are surging across Europe would come at a price. “The risk-benefit of... vaccinating using AstraZeneca vaccines and other vaccines outweigh the risk of Covid-19 infection,” Simao said.
Simao added that only batches made in Europe were being looked at, not vaccines that are provided through the Covax facility, which are made in India and South Korea.
The global health body had earlier too said that there was no reason to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine. On March 14, AstraZeneca had said that a safety review of people inoculated with its coronavirus vaccine has shown no evidence of increased risk of blood clots.
However, there have been concerns. Ireland and The Netherlands announced suspensions on March 14. Bulgaria is also not using the vaccine. On March 11, Denmark, Norway and Iceland had temporarily suspended the use of the vaccine. Other countries such as Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxemburg, however, had not completely suspended the use of the vaccine but stopped using just one batch.
After several countries started imposing the suspension, AstraZeneca defended its product. “The safety of the vaccine has been extensively studied in phase III clinical trials and peer-reviewed data confirms the vaccine has been generally well-tolerated,” a spokesperson for the company told AFP. Britain also spoke in favours or the jab, calling it “both safe and effective”.
In India, the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is one of the two vaccines approved for emergency use. Covaxin, developed by Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research and the National Institute of Virology, is the other vaccine.
India is also reviewing all “serious” side effects following coronavirus vaccination but said that the panels set up to look into the adverse events were not focusing on any particular vaccine.