The world is waiting for the results of Europe’s top medical regulator’s inquiry into whether the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is related to a small number of blood clots identified in people around the continent.
The expert committee of the European Medicines Agency is due to release the conclusions of its investigation later Thursday.
After reports of unexplained blood clots in some people among the 17 million who have received at least one dose in Europe, more than a dozen countries, including Germany, France, Spain, and Italy, suspended immunization using the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine earlier this week. Both the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization have stated that there is no current evidence that the vaccine was to blame, and that the benefits of vaccination greatly outweighed the risk of getting vaccinated. AstraZeneca said it found no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots in any age group or gender in any country after reviewing its COVID-19 immunization results.
On Tuesday, EMA executive director Emer Cooke confirmed that the protection of the vaccine was the agency’s top priority, and that the agency would consider issues such as whether additional alerts for the AstraZeneca vaccine were required. COVID-19 continues to take a regular toll across the continent, she said, and vaccines are vital to halting its spread.
“We are concerned that there could be a negative impact on vaccine trust,” she said. “However, it is our responsibility to ensure that the goods we approve are secure, and that we can be trusted by European citizens.”
The suspension of vaccinations using the AstraZeneca vaccine comes as COVID-19 spreads throughout Europe and Britain faces significant delays in vaccine deliveries. Thousands of new cases every day have prompted new lockdown measures in Italy, increased hospitalizations in France, and prompted German officials to announce the start of the third COVID-19 wave.
According to data released this week by the European Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, there are approximately 7 million unused AstraZeneca vaccines across the EU’s 27 member states.
The German government defended its decision to halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, claiming that it was made after consulting experts.
Although some may be concerned, government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer told reporters in Berlin on Wednesday that the change should be seen as proof that “trust in our control mechanisms is justified.”
She added, “That’s why this measure could also reinforce confidence” in vaccines. “Problems are taken seriously and investigated. And if these issues are resolved, a vaccine may be used without hesitation once more.”
According to Health Ministry spokesman Hanno Kautz, Germany will depend on the EMA’s decision on how to proceed.
“It is evident that the EMA decision is binding, and we will, of course, comply with the EMA decision,” Kautz said.
Scientists foresee some significant health problems and deaths as vaccinations are widely administered, simply because tens of millions of people will be taking the shots. It’s impossible to say if the vaccine is to blame because the people who get inoculated first are the ones who are most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
However, since none of the COVID-19 vaccines have long-term evidence, any possible indication of trouble must be thoroughly investigated.
Since clinical trials include only tens of thousands of patients, highly unusual side effects are often not discovered until vaccines have been used by millions of people, long after they have been approved. For example, it took nearly a year for European officials to note a spike in narcolepsy in children and adolescents who received the GlaxoSmithKline vaccine following the 2009 swine flu pandemic.
In the Philippines, the government was forced to halt its national dengue vaccination program with a new vaccine developed by Sanofi Pasteur after more than 130 children who had been immunized died after about a year. It turned out that the vaccine exacerbated the symptoms of dengue fever in children who had never been infected before.
Michael Head, a senior research fellow in public health at the University of Southampton, said, “It’s right to examine any possible signs of issues, but you can do it when you continue immunization.” “We can see coincidental clusters of conditions due to the millions of doses being administered,” he said. “It won’t be much of a rollout if we delay the vaccine rollout every time there’s a potential signal.”