The difficult rollout in Europe of covid-19 injections took another heavy blow over the weekend, as several countries halted the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine over fears it could cause blood clots.
Monday Germany, Spain, Italy and France were among those to suspend vaccine rollout, following similar measures taken last week by Denmark, Norway, Ireland and others. German Health Minister Jens Spahn said it was “a precautionary measure” after some reports that a small number of people who had received the vaccine later developed blood clots in their brains.
The European Medicines Agency, meanwhile, said that although there were around 30 reports of clotting among 5 million people vaccinated, this was not higher than the expected incidence. normally. In a Monday ad, he said the vaccine could still be administered while further investigations were underway.
“Events involving blood clots, some with unusual characteristics such as low platelet count, have occurred in a very small number of people who have received the vaccine,” the agency said in a statement. “Thousands of people develop blood clots every year in the EU for different reasons. The number of thromboembolic events overall in vaccinated individuals does not appear to be greater than that observed in the general population. “
Meanwhile, Britain’s healthcare regulator – which has delivered 11 million AstraZeneca vaccines so far, far more than any other country – says there are no proof that this vaccine presents an increased risk to health.
But conflicting messages about the seriousness of these reports – and therefore the risk of the vaccine – have left people worried and confused about what is happening. Some experts fear the news could harm broader efforts to get people vaccinated against the coronavirus.
“We don’t have much to do because governments make statements, but they don’t really publish data,” says Michael Head, senior researcher in global health at the University of Southampton in the UK. “Germany appears to have seen a very slightly elevated risk of thrombosis … but I just don’t see any data to suggest that we should suspend the deployment.”
One of the factors behind the suspensions, he said, could be that Europe is still in the early stages of rolling out vaccination – meaning some of those receiving doses right now are among the most fragile or most vulnerable. exposed to medical problems. AstraZeneca claims that its own studies show that incidents of coagulation are lower than one would expect among the general population.
The situation also plays into a wider discourse on the risk of vaccination. Many European countries have high levels of vaccine reluctance—a study in France suggested that only 40% of people were planning to be vaccinated against covid-19 – and the AstraZeneca vaccine, in particular, has sparked more concern and speculation than others.
Germany and France did not initially approve this vaccine for people over 65 years of age, and after South Africa halted deployment when data suggested that it was less effective against the local variant of the disease, it became unpopular in some european countries.
The United States has yet to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite emergency approval of three other competing products, and is awaiting the results of additional trials. However, as part of Washington’s race to produce enough vaccine, the government has placed an order –which means that there is now a stock of around 30 million doses.
The suspensions, so far, are extremely short: the French regulator announced that it would publish new guidelines on Tuesday.
“Countries are too cautious and there will be consequences,” Head says. “The suspension of vaccinations means that the doses are not going to people’s arms. Plus, there’s public confidence: will this pause increase reluctance? Will it remain in the public consciousness? It has become a bit of political football.