AstraZeneca today dismissed concerns that its Covid-19 vaccine is linked to blood clots, joining the WHO, No 10 and EU regulators in rejecting the fears that have led several European countries to suspend their use of the jab.
The pharma giant said its analysis of more than 10million records showed there was ‘no evidence of an increased risk’ in any age group or any batch of doses, after Austria and others black-listed a particular shipment over fears of side-effects.
‘In fact, the observed number of these types of events are significantly lower in those vaccinated than would be expected among the general population,’ the firm said.
EU regulators are looking into 30 cases of blood clots among nearly five million people who have had a dose of the vaccine, after Denmark, Norway and Iceland suspended their use of the jab altogether this week.
Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have meanwhile blocked a particular batch of doses after a 49-year-old nurse died soon after getting the jab.
But AstraZeneca’s findings match those of the EU safety panel which says there is ‘no indication’ the nurse’s death was linked to the vaccine and found that the batch in question is ‘unlikely’ to be defective.
Despite Austria’s concerns, chancellor Sebastian Kurz sought to rally support for the AstraZeneca shot today by saying that he himself would be injected with it.
Kurz, one of the world’s youngest leaders at 34, said he would take the jab in order to ‘show that I trust this vaccine’ which has become an unloved choice in Europe after top officials feuded with AstraZeneca and questioned the shot’s effectiveness.
WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris also weighed in by telling reporters: ‘Yes, we should continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine. There is no indication to not use it.’
‘AstraZeneca is an excellent vaccine, as are the other vaccines that are being used,’ she said at a briefing in Geneva.
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured), one of the world’s youngest leaders at 34, said he himself would take the AstraZeneca jab to rally public support
A pharmacist gives a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine to a patient in Paris today after France said it would continue using the product
Empty chair: Thai premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha was due to get the first AstraZeneca vaccine at a televised event this morning, but he was nowhere to be seen as officials called a halt
Thailand also called off the start of its AstraZeneca programme on Friday just moments before the prime minister was due to get the televised first injection.
Thai premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha was nowhere to be seen at the event this morning which was replaced by a press conference where health officials said they would wait for Denmark and Austria to deliver their verdict.
Officials said Thailand’s batch of AstraZeneca jabs was made at a factory in Asia, saying they would wait to see if any issues were confined to the European shipment.
‘Vaccine injection for Thais must be safe, we do not have to be in a hurry,’ said Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, an adviser for the country’s vaccine committee.
But Germany and France have backed the jab after EU regulators said there was no evidence it was causing dangerous side-effects and found there was ‘no specific issue’ with the shipment blocked by Austria.
While defending the jab’s efficacy, the Austrian premier today renewed the EU’s supply row by claiming some countries were getting more than their fair share.
Kurz spoke in Vienna on Friday, saying when he and other European leaders had received the latest numbers, ‘many couldn’t believe their ears.’
He said the Netherlands had received double the number of jabs per person as Croatia, citing Bulgaria and Latvia as two other countries with low deliveries.
‘This is a clear contradiction of the political goal of the European Union that every member nation gets the same number of vaccine doses per person,’ he said.
Austria on Sunday stopped using doses from the so-called ABV5300 batch after the 49-year-old nurse died of ‘severe blood coagulation problems’ days after receiving an anti-Covid shot.
Another person was taken to hospital after suffering a pulmonary embolism following their vaccination, and is now recovering.
The EU’s safety panel that ‘there is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine’.
The batch in question contained a million doses and was sent to 17 countries, and is now being probed by safety experts at the European Medicines Agency.
But the EMA says data so far suggests that the number of blood clots in vaccinated people ‘is no higher than that seen in the general population’.
‘Although a quality defect is considered unlikely at this stage, the batch quality is being investigated,’ it said.
Bulgaria joined the countries black-listing the batch today, with prime minister Boyko Borisov saying authorities would await a ‘written statement’ saying the jab is safe.
The country has mainly been using the AstraZeneca shot in recent weeks after deciding to scrap prioritisation lists and offer jabs to anyone willing to take them.
But German officials today stood by the vaccine, saying that some deaths soon after inoculation were inevitable because of the old age of many of those getting jabs.
A Thai nurse prepares a syringe with an AstraZeneca dose after officials announced a temporary delay while some EU countries investigate reports of blood clots
Thai premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha, pictured spraying hand sanitiser at journalists in an attempt to evade questions on Tuesday, was forced to cancel his televised jab
No 10 yesterday insisted the jab is safe and that Britons should continue to take it, pointing to the success the vaccination programme is having on Covid cases. Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson, seen on Wednesday
Thailand already rolled out its vaccination campaign last month, with the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine, and health workers were the first to receive the injections.
The Sinovac shipment arrived with huge fanfare at Bangkok’s airport, with a Chinese embassy official saying it the ‘strengthened relations between China and Thailand’.
But the Thai prime minister, a gruff former military general, was due to take the AstraZeneca shot which was first approved in Britain in December.
No 10 yesterday insisted the jab is safe and that Britons should continue to take it, pointing to the success the vaccination programme is having.
The PM’s office said: ‘We’ve been clear that it’s both safe and effective, and when people are asked to come forward and take it, they should do so in confidence.’
‘And in fact you’re starting to see the results of the vaccine programme in terms of the (lower) number of cases we’re seeing across the country, the number of deaths, number of hospitalisations.’
Denmark, the first to announce it was suspending the jab, stressed that the move was precautionary.
‘It has not been determined, at the time being, that there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots,’ the country’s health authority said.
The Danish suspension, which will be reviewed after two weeks, is expected to slow down the country’s vaccination campaign.
If Denmark were to move on without AstraZeneca, officials said they expected to have the entire adult population vaccinated by mid-August instead of early July.
‘We are of course saddened by this news,’ said Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen.
‘Things have gone well in Denmark, but there are some risks linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine that need to be examined more closely,’ she told reporters.
‘That seems to me to be the right way to proceed.’
European countries are lagging behind the UK in vaccination numbers after fuelling fears over the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca jab
‘We are of course saddened by this news,’ said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen (pictured centre) on the decision to halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine
Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Lithuania have all banned jabs from the particular batch being scrutinised by EU regulators.
Italy meanwhile suspended a different batch, ABV2856, after non-commissioned naval officer Stefano Paterno died of a cardiac arrest 24 hours after receiving a dose in Sicily, where a second man also died after receiving the jab.
‘This is a super-cautious approach based on some isolated reports in Europe,’ said Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
‘The risk and benefit balance is still very much in favour of the vaccine,’ he said.
France meanwhile said it would carry on using the jabs, which were recently extended to over-65s in a U-turn by health authorities.
‘There is no need to suspend AstraZeneca,’ health minister Olivier Veran told a news conference. ‘The upside of vaccinations at this stage outweighs the risks.’
Veran said France’s own medicine watchdog had urged him to follow the EU drug regulator’s ruling that AstraZeneca was still safe to use.
Other European nations also signalled their intention to continue using the vaccine, including Sweden, Spain and The Netherlands.
Swedish authorities said they did not find sufficient evidence to stop vaccination with AstraZeneca’s jab.
‘There is nothing to indicate that the vaccine causes this type of blood clots,’ Veronica Arthurson, head of drug safety at the Swedish Medical Products Agency, told a news conference.
Spain on Thursday said it had not registered any cases of blood clots related to AstraZeneca’s vaccine so far and would continue administering the shots.
EU regulators on January 30 approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying it was effective and safe to use.
But many European leaders have frequently doubted the effectiveness of the Oxford vaccine which has subsequently seen a low uptake compared to other jabs.
French leader Emmanuel Macron previously said the jab was ‘quasi-effective’ in over-65s. The claim was widely rejected by scientists and was criticised as a political move born out of post-Brexit ill will.
But France, along with a host of other European nations, then blocked use of the jab for the elderly.
France’s health minister Olivier Veran (pictured on Thursday) said last night that the country has ‘no need’ to suspend use of the jab after he consulted with the French medicines agency which advised him against taking a similar action to other countries
Last week, Macron made a partial U-turn on the decision after a slow uptake of the Oxford jab among the French was seen to be contributing to the country’s sluggish immunisation programme.
Germany followed with its own U-turn, recommending the jab for the over-65s.
The scaremongering around the jab has led some Europeans to refuse to take it, with authorities in Germany forced to resort to threatening people who balk at it.
That has hampered Europe’s already-slow vaccine drive which has been plagued by supply issues and has seen just 10 per cent of people given at least one dose, compared to 36 per cent in the UK.
Over the weekend, it was reported that the EU had gone cap in hand to Washington to beg them to provide some of their surplus AstraZeneca.
Meanwhile yesterday, AstraZeneca said in a statement that its vaccine had met ‘clear and stringent’ safety standards before being approved for use in Europe in January.
An AstraZeneca spokeswoman told MailOnline: ‘We’re aware of the statement made today by Sundhedsstyrelsen [the Danish health authority] that they are currently investigating potential adverse events related to vaccination against COVID-19.
‘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 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 is generally well tolerated.’
The UK’s Medicines And Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has also suggested that the number of blood clots reported in the EU is no greater than the amount that would occur naturally.
AstraZeneca’s share price was however down 2.28 percent in mid-afternoon trading in London.
AstraZeneca said in a statement that its vaccine had met ‘clear and stringent’ safety standards before being approved for use in Europe in January