The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging countries to continue using the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine – as global medical experts meet to discuss reports of blood clots.
UK leaders and medical professionals have joined in their defence of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after some European countries – including Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, France and Sweden – paused its use due to concerns over possible adverse side effects.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there was “no reason at all” to stop the vaccine’s rollout and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would accept her jab “without hesitation” when called on.
And the European Union’s medical regulator has also weighed in – insisting the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the risk of side effects.
Now, France has said it expects inoculations there to resume after a European Medicines Agency (EMA) meeting later on Tuesday.
The EMA said “many thousands of people” develop blood clots every year in the EU and “the number of thromboembolic events overall in vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population”.
Sky News science correspondent Thomas Moore said that out of the five million people who have had the vaccine across the continent, there have been 30 reports of blood clots.
He added: “In a population of that size, you’d expect one in 1,000 or around 100 a week developing a blood clot, even without vaccination.”
Both the WHO and the EMA are meeting separately on Tuesday to discuss the issue.
The EMA has been working closely with AstraZeneca, experts in blood disorders, and authorities including the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and will report those findings in preparation for an extraordinary meeting on Thursday to consider any further action that may be needed.
Mr Johnson described the MRHA as “one of toughest and most experienced regulators in the world”.
“They see no reason at all to discontinue the vaccination programme… for either of the vaccines that we’re currently using,” he said.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, told a media briefing “we do not want people to panic”, as she said no association has been found so far between blood clots and COVID-19 vaccines.
She said the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine “are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population”.
Clinical epidemiologist Dr Deepti Gurdasani said she believed the European countries’ decision to pause the AstraZeneca rollout was out of “an abundance of caution”.
Dr Gurdasani told Sky News there is no evidence so far of a link, but that because public confidence has “taken a hit” it is “important” the concerns are investigated “thoroughly but quickly”.
However, she added that even if the vaccine is found to cause a small number of incidents, people should still take the jab.
“The benefit of taking the vaccine far outweighs the risk, even if these events were linked to the vaccine – which we don’t know that they are at the moment,” she said.
“The risk of dying from COVID and the vulnerability of the age groups currently taking the vaccine is very high.”
Analysis: Oxford jab had troubled rollout in the EU from the start
By Michelle Clifford, Europe correspondent in Brussels
People need confidence going for a vaccine and the news that more countries are halting the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab won’t instil that.
The vaccine has had a troubled start in the EU with delays to orders and Germany and France initially deciding not to give it to the elderly. That made many ask why, and in both countries I found many pursuing for the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine instead. Even many health professionals rejected the AstraZeneca jab because of some evidence of side effects.
So reports of blood clots in some people who received the vaccine will have created huge alarm. Not just in the EU but in the UK where the jabs are still being given to people. How many of us have thought in recent days we’d prefer to have an alternative vaccine?
But the regulators on both sides of the channel insist there is no cause for concern. There is no evidence of a causal link between the blood clots and the AstraZeneca vaccine. And the number of blood clots reported are tiny compared to the millions of jabs administered.
Still, governments deal with politics and public confidence and need to reassure their populations they are doing everything they can to ensure safety.
President Macron of France said the rollout would be suspended until the European Medicines Agency carries out a review which starts today. But his vaccines’ minister has said he believes the suspension will only be temporary suggesting a confidence in what the regulator has said.
No leader will want the legacy of delivering a vaccine which isn’t safe. But the evidence for now is that the AstraZeneca one is. Reviews by the European Medicines Agency and the World Health organisation-which has already said there is no evidence the blood clots were linked to the vaccination-will hopefully give more clarity. And confidence.
Without it, the EU is in trouble. It was relying heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine to accelerate what was a sluggish start to its rollout. The European Commission announced today a major boost of its Pfizer-Biontech supply. But with millions still waiting for jabs, the union needs every vaccine it can get its hands on.