The rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has come to a halt in nearly all of Western Europe in just a few days. Following fears that the shot may be connected to blood clots, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and more than a dozen other countries have put the shot on hold as a precautionary measure; decisions that go against global health agencies’ advice.
Just a few countries have backed the vaccine, including the United Kingdom, where more than 11 million doses have already been given out and real-world evidence shows that vaccines are lowering infection and hospitalization rates.
Experts have been stunned by European governments’ decisions, which have raised a slew of questions among those who have had or are waiting for the shot.
However, the overall message from health experts is that of calm; when taken in perspective, recorded cases of blood clotting are uncommon and equivalent to those seen in the general population, and the vaccine has been shown to minimize Covid-19 cases.
“At the moment, I can’t think of any explanation why any country would put the AstraZeneca vaccine on hold. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me “Michael Head, a senior research fellow at the University of Southampton’s Global Health Institute, told CNN.
“These vaccines are to protect against a pandemic virus. There is an urgency to the rollout,” he added. “So pausing a vaccine campaign without a very good reason at this point in time just seems a bad move.”
Since the AstraZeneca vaccine was first approved for use in the European Union in late January, Europe has taken a mixed stance on it.
Several EU countries have violently rebuked the company for failing to provide the maximum amount of promised doses; cast doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness in older people only to later reverse their stance; stopped vaccine shipments from leaving the continent; and now paused their rollouts over fears about blood clots.
“For reasons I don’t understand, the AstraZeneca candidate vaccine appears to have been a bit of a political football,” Head said.
“It’s all been a bit unedifying to watch from a scientific point of view,” he added. “In terms of the science behind the vaccine, it’s safe, it’s effective, it’s a very good vaccine.”
Last week, Denmark placed a two-week moratorium on the vaccine, citing a few cases of clotting in people who had received the injection, including one fatal event. Norway quickly followed suit, citing three clotting incidents, one of which resulted in death on Monday. Neither of these events has been related to the vaccine.
Almost all of Western Europe has stopped using the shot since then, but countries are reminding people that the ban is precautionary as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigates the accidents.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) will meet on Thursday, and the World Health Organization (WHO) will analyze the reports on Tuesday — but both bodies have stated that there is currently no evidence of a correlation between the vaccine and blood clotting, with the EMA adding that the vaccine’s benefits outweigh the risks.
The EMA and WHO are investigating whether any cases of clotting have been related to the vaccine, and the EMA is expected to give its advice to countries on Thursday.
Even so, cases of clotting in inoculated people are extremely rare. The initial wave of suspensions in Denmark was triggered by a single fatality. Germany has discovered only seven cases of blood clotting after giving out 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses, according to Dirk Brockmann, an epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institut. Cerebral vein thrombosis is a blood clot on the cerebral vein in the brain.
Three patients currently in the hospital “offer a rare disease image,” according to the Norwegian Medicines Agency, since they have an uncommon combination of low platelet counts, blood clots in small and large veins, and bleeding. It stated that similar combinations of symptoms had not been seen in people who had received other vaccinations.
A Dutch laboratory has received ten records of blood clots in vaccine recipients, but the conditions are not the same as in Norway. The number of confirmed accidents isn’t high enough to cause alarm among health experts.
“The numbers involved are small, and potentially no more than you’d expect in a population,” Jon Gibbins, director of the University of Reading’s Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Science, told CNN. The same has been said by a number of experts.