'Benefits Outweigh Risks': WHO Urges Restraint as Major European Nations Halt Astrazeneca Covid Vaccine Use

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Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Norway among the list of over a dozen countries, largely from the European Union, who have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The pause comes after reports of blood clots and abnormal bleeding in a handful of vaccinated cases. Reports suggest that there have been 37 such cases among the 17 million people vaccinated across the UK and Europe. The suspension goes against the advice of the WHO and the European Medicines Agency, who have recommended the vaccinations continue while a probe is on.

The World Health Organisation has said: ”It was reviewing the situation and that the vaccine’s benefits continued to outweigh its risks and the vaccine could continue to be administered while the investigation of cases of thromboembolic events was ongoing.”

In repeated statements, the latest on Sunday, AstraZeneca has denied any vaccine link to the clotting. In a statement, it said: “A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union (EU) and UK with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism.”

Medical experts say blood clots are common and the cases are not related to the vaccination.

In an interview to a local daily, the chief of Italy’s medicines authority said the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and the decision to suspend the vaccine is a political one. In January, the EU had a very public and acrimonious fight with AstraZeneca over vaccine delays, after the company said it would deliver tens of millions fewer doses than agreed. Italy had even blocked the export of vaccine doses to Australia earlier this month.

Meanwhile, Canada has not only continued with shots, but also widened its coverage. Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister, said, "Health Canada and our experts and scientists have spent an awful lot of time making sure that every vaccine approved in Canada is both safe and effective, therefore, the best vaccine for you to take is the first one that is offered to you.” The vaccine has been granted conditional marketing authorisation or emergency use in more than 70 countries.

In India, AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is manufactured and distributed by Serum Institute and the Indian government has said that it is revisiting all the AEFIs and hospitalisation.

So far India has reported 0.020 % adverse event following immunisation and 0.00025% hospitalisation. And the government says the vaccine has not been linked to any deaths in India so far. It’s expected that the health ministry will soon share the details of the review it's carrying out.

The vaccine suspension comes at a time when a third wave of infections, reportedly caused by a more contagious variant, is engulfing Europe. AstraZeneca is also awaiting results from a US trial with 32,000 participants.