WHO urges countries to continue use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Sweden becomes latest European country to pause use of shot over reports of clotting

A health worker preparing syringes with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Skane University Hospital vaccination centre in Malmo, Sweden. Photograph: Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

A health worker preparing syringes with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Skane University Hospital vaccination centre in Malmo, Sweden. Photograph: Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency/AFP via Getty Images

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is urging countries to continue using the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine as global medical leaders meet to discuss reports of blood clots.

WHO’s global advisory committee on vaccine safety will hold a meeting on Tuesday, while the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will also meet, with a view to publishing further guidance on Thursday.

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”.

Sweden became the latest European country to pause use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday. The company and international regulators continue to say the vaccine is safe, however, and many countries elsewhere in the world are forging ahead with their vaccination campaigns.

An EMA spokesman said “many thousands of people develop blood clots annually in the EU for different reasons”, adding that the incidence in vaccinated people “seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population”.

According to AstraZeneca, about 17 million people in the EU and the UK have received a dose of the vaccine, with fewer than 40 cases of blood clots reported to date.

The move by the Swedish Public Health Agency is pending the findings of the EMA investigation.

“The decision is a precautionary measure,” Swedish chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said in a statement.

Germany, France, Italy and Spain were among countries that suspended use of the vaccine on Monday. Those announcements followed the suspension of the use of the vaccine in the Republic on Sunday, while the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Iceland and Thailand have also temporarily paused the use of the jab.

In the UK, medical experts have defended the use of the vaccine, while British prime minister Boris Johnson said there was “no reason at all” to stop its rollout.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would accept the jab “without hesitation”.

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride also urged people to retain confidence in the jab, as he received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday.

Mr Johnson said the MRHA was “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. – AP/Reuters