Covid-19: Is The AstraZeneca Vaccine Really Safe?
As yet another surge of coronavirus infections threatens to sweep across much of western Europe, authorities on the continent have embarked upon an uncertain path in suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine – despite scientific assurances that the jab is safe to administer.
Germany, France and Italy – along with many others – are investigating the vaccine following reports of blood clotting in people who had received a first dose. Some 37 “thromboembolic events” have been recorded to date, but out of 17 million European recipients, this figure should not be of concern.
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Indeed, AstraZeneca said the incidence of such conditions is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar to that of other licensed Covid-19 vaccines.
The reality is that no causal link has been established between the vaccine and the clots. Such issues “can occur naturally and are not uncommon”, according to the UK’s medicines regulator, while its European counterpart has said that “many thousands of people develop blood clots annually in the EU for different reasons”.From day one, experts have cautioned against drawing invisible lines between the vaccines and unexpected poor health that follows – but is not caused – by inoculation. The law of averages tells us that there will be people who fall ill, or even die, in the wake of receiving a vaccine.
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This probability is heightened when taking into consideration the average age of the current cohort of recipients, a majority of whom are older, not as active and more inclined to developing health complications.
These are unavoidable facts that must not be allowed to fuel the flames of vaccine hesitancy or become weaponised by those seeking to invalidate these life-saving tools.
Professor Andrew Pollard, whose team helped to develop the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, said it was “important to understand that a lot of stuff happens to people all the time in normal times and, in the case of blood clots here in the UK, we see about 3,000 cases of blood clots happening every month.
“So, when you then put a vaccination campaign on top of that, clearly those blood clots still happen and you’ve got to then try and separate out whether, when they occur, they are at all related to the vaccine or not.”
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has separately said “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”.
But despite this clear vote of confidence, much of Europe has erred on the side of caution in temporarily pausing use of the vaccine. The list extends to Norway, Iceland, Bulgaria, Ireland and the Netherlands, while Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have limited their restrictions to a specific batch.
The reported thromboembolic events are, of course, worthy of investigation, but many have questioned whether the decision to introduce a suspension amid these ongoing reviews is necessary or wise – especially given the circumstances.
Having been slow off the mark with its roll-out, Europe is now recording a worrying rise in cases. On Monday, French authorities reported there were 4,219 patients in intensive care with Covid-19, while a further 333 deaths in hospitals were recorded.
Italy has meanwhile implemented new national restrictions following a 15 per cent rise in infections over the last seven days.
Every administered vaccine dose will make a difference, and some are concerned that this latest episode could delay Europe’s recovery in prolonging the time it takes to build up sufficient protection among the populations while fostering a climate of anxiety surrounding the different jabs.
“The decisions by France, Germany and other countries look baffling,” said Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at University of Southampton.
“Halting a vaccine roll-out during a pandemic has consequences. This results in delays in protecting people, and the potential for increased vaccine hesitancy, as a result of people who have seen the headlines and understandably become concerned. There are no signs yet of any data that really justify these decisions.”
The EMA, along with the MHRA and other regulatory bodies, are now in the process of reviewing the blood clot reports. Clarity will follow in due course. But for those who have already received the AstraZeneca vaccine, or are soon to be offered it, all the evidence suggests that there is nothing to fear.
Science has got us this far in the face of adversity. There’s no reason to turn our back on it now.
Photo Credit: Getty
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