AstraZeneca vaccine: ‘No evidence’ to restrict use of Covid jab, EMA boss says

Sam HancockWed, 31 March 2021, 7:08 pm

An elderly patient in southern Germany is vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab on Wednesday (AFP via Getty Images)
An elderly patient in southern Germany is vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab on Wednesday (AFP via Getty Images)

There is no evidence to support restricting the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in any population, according to the European Medicines Agency’s executive director.

Emer Cooke defended the vaccine after several European countries suspended the jab’s rollout due to fears of blood clotting.

The agency said a causal link between blood clots and the vaccine was not proven, but that it might be possible and further analysis was being done.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, Ms Cooke reiterated to Europeans the vaccine’s safety and said its benefits far outweighed the risks.

“Our position has not changed,” she said. “According to the current scientific knowledge, there is no evidence that would support restricting the use of this vaccine in any population.”

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On Tuesday, Germany became the EU’s latest member to pause the jab’s use, restricting it for under-60s. Angela Merkel told reporters that the change was prompted by the occurrence of what she called very rare but very serious cases of thrombosis among younger and predominantly female recipients of the vaccine.

“We cannot ignore those cases,” Ms Merkel said, adding that the EMA and World Health Organisation (WHO) were notified of the incidents.

Elsewhere, Canada suspended its use of the medicine on Monday for under 55s, owing to similar concerns it might be linked to rare blood clots.

The country’s healthcare system said the holt was recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation for “safety reasons”.

“There is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks,” said Dr Shelley Deeks, vice-chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation.

Dr Deeks added the recommendation came as a result of new data from Europe that suggests the risk of blood clots is now potentially as high as one in 100,000 – significantly higher than the one in 1,000,000 risk circulated earlier this month.

Just twelve days ago, though, the EMA said the vaccine was “safe and effective” and did not increase the risk of blood clots.

In a statement on Wednesday, Europe’s drugs regulator said its review had not “identified any specific risk factors, such as age, gender or a previous medical history of clotting disorders, for these very rare [blood clotting] events”.

“As communicated on 18 March, EMA is of the view that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of side effects,” the agency added.

The UK government has been vocal in its support for the AstraZeneca jab, with a spokesperson saying earlier this week: “The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, effective and has already saved thousands of lives in this country. As the UK’s independent regulator has said, when people are called forward, they should get the jab.

“Over 30 million people have already received their first dose of a vaccine, and we are on track to offer jabs to all over 50s by 15 April and all adults by the end of July.”

Meanwhile, Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, previously compared the jab’s potential side effects to those associated with other drugs such as paracetamol.

“Vaccines don’t save lives if they’re in fridges, they only save lives if they’re in arms,” he added.


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