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COVID-19: European countries suspend AstraZeneca vaccine over blood clot death fears


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A number of European countries, on Thursday, stopped the use of  AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after fatalities were recorded from blood clot. 

Denmark, Iceland and Norway have stopped administering AstraZeneca vaccine entirely while the incident is being investigated. Italy has also suspended a batch of the vaccine.

Other countries, including Latvia and Austria, said they would stop using doses from a separate batch of the vaccine, ABV5300, which had been linked to death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism in Austria.

The United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands said there was not yet enough evidence showing that the deaths were linked to the vaccine, and would continue their campaigns.

The European Medicines Agency, in a statement on Thursday, said it was also investigating the situation, but stated that the number of ‘thromboembolic’ events marked by the formation of blood clots was not higher among vaccinated people than in the general population.

It said that vaccinations should continue while it carried out investigations.

Magnus Heunicke, Denmark’s health minister, said in a statement on Twitter that the country was acting ‘on the precautionary principle.’

“We cannot yet conclude that there is any connection,” he said. “We are taking action early and this will now be thoroughly investigated.”

The Danish Medicines Agency has called on anyone who has received the AstraZeneca vaccine within the last 14 days and experienced symptoms for more than three days to visit their doctor.

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A spokesperson for the agency stressed that it remained unclear whether the person who died of a blood clot in Denmark had received a shot from batch ABV5300,  although the European Medicines Agency (EMA) confirmed on Wednesday that 17 other European countries, including Denmark, received doses of the same shipment used in Austria.

“We can’t say with any certainty that it is the same batch. That’s going to be one of the issues that the forthcoming investigation will look into,” he said.

Italy’s decision to ban a batch of AstraZeneca vaccine was taken following the deaths of two men in Sicily who had recently been inoculated, a source close to the matter said on Thursday.

Nigeria recently received doses of AstraZeneca vaccine. Many health workers and strategic leaders, including President Muhammadu Buhari, have been administered the vaccine. Medical analysts fear that the backlash in Europe could trigger fears in COVID-19-prone population in Africa’s biggest economy.

In Europe, Italy’s medicines authority Aifa said earlier that the ban was a ‘precautionary’ measure, adding that no link had been established between the vaccine and subsequent ‘serious adverse events.’

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Iceland’s state epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason told the Frettabladdid newspaper that it was normal to see similar events when so many were being vaccinated.

“I realise that this news will increase people’s worry about the vaccines, but I would like to remind you that when so many people are vaccinated at the same time, we always see something after vaccinations that we need to study and evaluate.”

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The EMA said the number of blood clot events seen in people who had got the shots in the European Economic Area was no higher than among the general population.

The United Kingdom government, which did not get any doses from the ABV5300 batch, said the vaccine was both ‘safe and effective.’

Phil Bryan, vaccines safety lead at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), said 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine had been given in the UK with no more reports of blood clots than in the unvaccinated population.

Spain’s health minister Caroline Darias said they too had not registered any case of blood clot related to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Dutch Medicines Evaluation Board said that there was no evidence of a link. It added that thrombosis and pulmonary embolism were no known side effects of the vaccine.

When large groups are vaccinated as is now the case, then you can expect such reports, it said.

The CNN quoted a spokesperson for AstraZeneca as saying that patient safety was the company’s ‘highest priority.’

“Patient safety is the highest priority for AstraZeneca. Regulators have clear and stringent efficacy and safety standards for the approval of any new medicine, and that includes the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca.

“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.”

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