By: Maler Suresh
Leading states in the EU such as Italy, Germany, France, and Spain are resuming rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after a brief pause due to health concerns. Thirteen European countries stopped distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precautionary measure after reports of a relatively small number of fatal blood clots in patients shortly after receiving the vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) conducted its own study, focusing specifically on cases of cerebral venous thrombosis – blood clots in the head. The results? “This is a safe and effective vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the EMA’s executive director “Its benefits in protecting people from Covid-19 with the associated risks of death and hospitalization outweigh the possible risks.” The vaccine does not increase the risk of getting a blood clot, however, the EMA added that they need more research before they can rule out a link between the vaccine and a “small number of cases of rare and unusual but very serious clotting disorders.” In the meantime, doctors will be warning patients of the risk of venous thrombosis in women under 55 years of age, and the EMA urges patients who experience symptoms such as persistent bleeding, chest or stomach pain, severe headaches, or blurred vision after receiving the vaccine to seek immediate medical attention. AstraZeneca’s response has been the firm assertion that there is no evidence of an increased risk of clotting due to the vaccine. The company said it has received 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and UK as of 8 March, which they said is “much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed COVID-19 vaccines.”
The implications of this stop-and-go vaccine distribution is that it puts countries that are already struggling with vaccine rollout even further behind schedule, and health officials fear that it will erode the already hesitant public’s confidence in the vaccine. Neither of these things are ideal given the rising numbers of cases in many EU countries, with some entering a “third wave.” Experts agree that the governments’ best course of action, and the most effective way to keep vaccination rates high, is to give clear and trustworthy health communication that reassures citizens that their safety is of the utmost importance.