Germany, France and Italy have all suspended their AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine campaign due to several countries reporting possible serious side-effects even though the Word Health Organization (WHO) has stated there is no proven link and urge the general public not to panic over the issue.
Still, the decision by the European Union’s three biggest countries to put inoculations with the AstraZeneca shot on hold threw the already struggling vaccination campaign in the 27-nation EU into disarray.
Other countries in Europe such as Denmark and Norway both stopped giving the shot last week after reporting isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and a low platelet count. Then there was Iceland and Bulgaria which both suspended their own vaccine campaign before Ireland and the Netherland doing the same.
Spain is yet another country which is also on the verge of stopping its vaccination campaign for at least 15 days according to a report from a popular media service in the country Cadena Ser.
The top WHO scientist reiterated on Monday that there have been no documented deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccines.
“We do not want people to panic,” Soumya Swaminathan said on a virtual media briefing, adding there has been no association, so far, pinpointed between so-called “thromboembolic events” reported in some countries and COVID-19 shots.
The WHO maintains there should be no panic as the agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced an advisory committee meeting on the AstraZeneca vaccine will be held on Tuesday.
EU medicines regulator EMA will also convene this week to assess the information gathered into whether the AstraZeneca shot contributed to thromboembolic events in those inoculated.
The existing shortage in the production of the AstraZeneca is an existing strain n the region already and the new move by the EU’s biggest countries to halt or slow down the rollout of the vaccines might have an adverse effect on the region in general.
The German government officials had warned last week that it was facing a third wave of the COVID-19 infections while Italy said it would intensify its lockdown measures and Paris hospitals are said to be closed down due to overload.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that although the risk of blood clots was low, it could not be ruled out.
“This is a professional decision, not a political one,” Spahn said, adding he was following a recommendation of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, Germany’s vaccine regulator.
France said it was suspending the vaccine’s use pending an assessment by EMA.
“The decision taken, in conformity also with our European policy, is to suspend, out of precaution, vaccination with the AZ shot, hoping that we can resume quickly if the EMA’s guidance allows,” French President Emmanuel Macron said.
Italy said its halt was a “precautionary and temporary measure” pending EMA’s ruling.
“The EMA will meet soon to clarify any doubts so that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be resumed safely in the vaccination campaign as soon as possible,” said Gianni Rezza, Director General of Prevention at Italy’s Ministry of Health.
The death of a man hours after he was vaccinated led to the pause of the AstraZeneca inoculation in both Austria and Spain.
It was the second region to do so after Sicily, where two people had died shortly after having their shots.
WHO on the other hand is against the sudden suspension of the vaccination considering the fact that the COVID-19 illness has killed more than 2.7 million people worldwide.
The agency’s director-general made it known that there are some serious measures being taken to ensure the safety of public health.
“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,” he told the media briefing.
The United Kingdom said it had no concerns, while Poland said it thought the benefits outweighed any risks.
Then there was a report made by the EMA which made it known that as of March 10th, there were a total of 30 cases of blood clothing among the 5 million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine in the European Economic Area which is a body of 30 European nations.
According to a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton Michael Head, he said the decisions made by both the German and French governments are baffling.
“The data we have suggests that numbers of adverse events related to blood clots are the same (and possibly, in fact lower) in vaccinated groups compared to unvaccinated populations,” he said, adding that halting a vaccination programme had consequences.
“This results in delays in protecting people, and the potential for increased vaccine hesitancy, as a result of people who have seen the headlines and understandably become concerned. There are no signs yet of any data that really justify these decisions.”
A senior German infectious diseases physician, however, said the background incidence of 2-5 thromboses per million per year was significantly lower than the number of 7 out of 1.6 million vaccinated people cited by Germany’s health ministry.
“This should be the reason to suspend the vaccination in Germany until all cases, including suspected cases in Germany and Europe, have been completely cleared up,” said Clemens Wendtner, head of the special unit for highly contagious life threatening infections at the Schwabing Clinic in Munich.
AstraZeneca vaccines first gained public attention when the big pharma announced a 90% efficacy of its vaccine which then got approved by the British government. It was in fact one of the first and the cheapest to be developed and would be a good candidate for developing countries across the globe.
Thailand which had initially suspended the usage of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday said it will resume the campaign even though Indonesia said it would await a positive statement from the WHO before proceeeding.
Reports of the complicated cases and side-effects relating to the AstraZeneca’s vaccine will continue to be investigated by the World Health Organization which stated that its advisory panel was reviewing reports that are related to the shot and would release whatever it finds as soon as it finds them.
But it said it was unlikely to change its recommendations, issued last month, for widespread use, including in countries where the South African variant of the virus may reduce its efficacy.
The EMA has also said there was no indication the events were caused by the vaccination and that the number of reported blood clots was no higher than seen in the general population.
But the handful of reported side-effects in Europe have upset vaccination programmes already stumbling over slow rollouts and vaccine scepticism in some countries.
The Netherlands health authorities stated there were 10 cases of possible noteworthy adverse side-effects from the AstraZeneca’s vaccine which it had to put on hold due to these fatal reports.
Recent information indicates “a very special, rarely occurring form of thrombosis, of which some cases appear to have occurred shortly after vaccination. This is of course suspicious and should be investigated,” said Anke Huckriede, vaccinology professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
There were also cases of “highly unusual” symptoms as with a 60-year-old citizen in Denmark who died from a blood cloth after receiving the vaccine. This same phrase was used by Norway which stated there were unusual symptoms noticed in some three individuals under the age of 50 who are now being treated in a hospital.
One of the three health workers hospitalised in Norway after receiving the AstraZeneca shot had died, health authorities said on Monday, but there was no evidence the vaccine was the cause even though further investigations will continue to be made to detect whether the vaccine is directly linked to the death of the individual.
However, the Anglo-Swedish big-pharma said it had conducted a review which covers more than 17 million people that have been vaccinated in the EU and the UK but there were no signs or evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.
Long-awaited results from AstraZeneca’s 30,000-person U.S. vaccine trial are now being reviewed by independent monitors to determine whether the shot is safe and effective, a top U.S. official said on Monday.
Even though the efficacy of the vaccine is certain, the adverse side-effects are scaring nations off as the safety of their citizens is the utmost priority but there are hopes and that includes the successful examination of the vaccines as well as the WHO report all which determine if the campaigns should continue.
This story was originally published on Reuters