More countries halt use of AstraZeneca vaccine

The World
A man is shown with his left sleeve raised and a medical professional injecting a syringe into his arm.

A man receives an injection of the AstraZeneca vaccine at the mass vaccination program in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, Jan. 11, 2021.

Scott Heppell/AP/File photo

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The number of countries in Europe putting a halt to their rollout of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine continues to grow. Even as countries across the European Union impose new restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and the bloc struggles with inoculation campaigns, Germany has joined France, Italy and Spain in suspending its use of AstraZeneca over concerns of blood clots in some recipients. The UK-based pharmaceutical company has said there is no evidence that the vaccine is to blame.

The World Health Organization is expected to meet on Tuesday to review the AstraZeneca jab but the group has also warned against halting use of the vaccine. Critics have raised additional concerns that an abundance of caution may further set the EU’s vaccination efforts back.

AstraZeneca is the least expensive of the three vaccines approved for use in Europe. And, it only requires refrigerator temperature so it can be stored for a couple of months. Health officials in Germany have called for further investigation into the blood clot cases. “Today’s decision is a purely precautionary measure,” said German politician Jens Spahn.

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A lot of experts still say the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks. Dr. Barry Bloom, former dean of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told The World’s Marco Werman that the investigation to find a causal link between the AstraZeneca jab and blood clots will be challenging.

“The way WHO has dealt with it is you ask, 'What is the rate we know about heart attacks or strokes or suicide or thrombosis prior in those countries to there being the availability of a vaccine or COVID[-19]?'” Bloom said.

“And the answer is: 'It's very, very low.' And if 3 million people are vaccinated and only 22 got thrombosis, that turns out to be statistically in the same range that would happen if there were no vaccination in the same countries. That is not proof that the vaccine didn't do that. But it certainly is evidence that it hasn't raised the level of thrombosis greater than would be expected if there were no vaccine.”

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