Ireland has temporarily halted its use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after some reports of blood clots.
The move came after a review from the Norwegian Medicines Agency showed four new cases of “serious blood clotting in adults” had occurred after the jab, despite the World Health Organisation having sought to downplay concerns and urge countries to keep using it.
The vaccine will continue to be administered in Northern Ireland, however, after the country’s health body sought advice from the UK’s medicine regulator.
Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Netherlands have said they are temporarily halting AstraZeneca vaccinations to investigate the reports of clotting.
A number of other countries in Europe, including Italy and Austria, have banned jabs from one particular batch of a million AstraZeneca doses.
Earlier, the Republic of Ireland’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Ronan Glynn, recommended “the administration of COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca be temporarily deferred from this morning, Sunday 14th March”.
That was despite him acknowledging that “it has not been concluded that there is any link between the COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca and these cases [of clotting]”.
“However, acting on the precautionary principal, and pending receipt of further information, the NIAC (National Immunisation Advisory Committee) has recommended the temporary deferral of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca vaccination programme in Ireland,” he said.
“The NIAC is due to meet again this morning. A further statement will follow thereafter.”
A statement from AstraZeneca said: “A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and UK with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an
increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country.”
In a statement, the Northern Ireland health service said they operate under the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
The service said they had been told by the MHRA: “We are aware of the action in Ireland. We are closely reviewing reports but given the large number of doses administered, and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause.”
The Northern Ireland health service said: “In line with MHRA guidance, the roll-out of Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme will continue. A further expansion of this programme will be announced very shortly.”
Latest figures show that as of Thursday, the overwhelming majority of vaccines given out in Ireland are produced by Pfizer. A total of 589,512 jabs have been administered, of which 452,927 were Pfizer jabs, and 117,507 were AstraZeneca.
Just two days ago, the World Health Organisation said the AstraZeneca vaccination was “excellent” and “no causal relationship had been established between the shot and the health problems reported”.
Despite the concerns, the Irish authorities have been pressing the pharmaceutical firm to speed up its supplies to the Republic to aid its rollout, which – like many EU countries – has been slow compared to the UK.
However, the decision to suspend use of the jab came after several other European countries also temporarily stopped AstraZeneca jabs following reports of people suffering blood clots.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) reported one person in Austria was diagnosed with blood clots and died 10 days after vaccination, but it stressed there is “currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions”.
Another person was admitted to hospital in Austria with pulmonary embolism (blockage in arteries in the lungs) after being vaccinated, while one death involving a blood clot was reported in Denmark.
A 50-year-old man is also thought to have died in Italy from deep vein thrombosis (DVT), while there has been an unconfirmed report of another death in Italy.
Italy also followed Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Lithuania in banning jabs from one particular batch of one million AstraZeneca vaccines, which was sent to 17 countries, after reports of a death.
Ireland’s decision a blow to a vaccine rollout already lagging behind its closest neighbour
Analysis by Stephen Murphy, Ireland correspondent
On first look, an unexpected suspension announced at 9am on a Sunday morning sounds alarming, but this could yet turn out to be just a blip in the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
More than 117,000 doses of the drug have been administered in Ireland so far, and authorities say there have been no known blood clotting issues experienced. Far more Pfizer vaccines have been given (450,000 doses), but the AstraZeneca vaccine has an important part to play in Ireland’s programme, notwithstanding the well-publicised supply issues.
The head of Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee Prof Karina Butler says today’s suspension could actually boost people’s confidence in the vaccine programme, as it shows safety comes first.
But the fear is that pulling the vaccine, even as a ‘temporary deferral’, could undermine public support for taking up the vaccination.
As one expert told Sky News today, the risk of not suspending the vaccine had to be weighed against the risk of fewer vaccinations being available, and the risk of furthering vaccine hesitancy.
Irish health authorities are stressing there’s no proven ’cause and effect’ link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots. Pending further information, they’re hopeful that the situation can be resolved within a week.
For now though, it’s a blow to Ireland’s vaccine rollout, already lagging behind its closest neighbour, the United Kingdom.
(c) Sky News 2021: COVID-19: Ireland suspends AstraZeneca vaccine over clotting concerns