As more vaccines are approved and made available across the world, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine has received pushback in European countries over some of the side effects. In Europe, cases of blood clots in patients who received the vaccine have begun to surface, with 37 reports of blood clots out of the 17 million people that have been vaccinated with this type of vaccine. As a result of this, at least 15 countries, including Spain, Germany, France, and Italy, have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, continued to administer vaccines before further information was given.
AstraZeneca responded to these concerns of blood clots by reassuring that in reviewed data from their clinical trials found that “COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or thrombocytopenia.” In efforts to reassure the public of the vaccine’s safety, AstraZeneca stated that over 60 quality tests were done in over 20 independent laboratories to prove the vaccine is safe for public use. Additional testing based on concerns about side effects and risks is done continuously.
The Emergency Medicines Agency reviewed the incidence of blood clots in people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. It was found that the AstraZeneca vaccine was “not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots (thromboembolic events) in those who receive it.” The possibility of a faulty batch was also overruled. However, it was found that there is a possibility that the AstraZeneca vaccine may be associated with rare cases of blood clots and that overall expected cases of blood clots were lower than expected. This was corroborated with the third phase results of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the United States trial, which concluded there was no increased risk of blood clots. The EMA and the World Health Organization encouraged European countries to continue using the vaccines with the EMA stating that “the benefits of the vaccine in combating the still widespread threat of COVID-19 (which itself results in clotting problems and maybe fatal) continue to outweigh the risk of side effects”.
As a result, multiple countries, including Germany, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal, have lifted their suspension of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine. The EMA has also encouraged that the risk, even if small, be communicated to those getting the vaccine and included on the product information. Romania and Austria have lifted the ban for limited batches. Iceland and Ireland have yet lift their ban, based on the information that the EMC provided. Norway and Sweden are waiting for data to be reviewed in their own countries before the ban is lifted.
While the ban has been lifted in most countries and is under review to be suspended in others, questions have been raised over the suspension impact on public trust of the AstraZeneca vaccine and the rollout of vaccines. Some experts say that with the prediction of a third wave of COVID-19 in spring, it is essential to get as many vaccinations out to people as possible to prevent more Covid cases and deaths. The suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine may lead to less trust and people becoming less willing to take it. However, most public health organizations are still stressing that regardless of which vaccine becomes available to individuals, they should take it.