UK says AstraZeneca shot remains safe as Dutch restrict use
The UK reported 25 new cases of rare blood clots possibly linked to AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine as the Netherlands became the latest country to restrict use of the shot.
The fresh reports in the UK lift the total number of cases to 30 as of March 24, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said in a statement Thursday. The regulator said the benefits of the shot continue to outweigh the risks.
The Netherlands joined Germany in suspending the vaccine’s use in people under 60. The move is temporary, pending a new assessment by the European Union’s drugs regulator, according to a statement Friday.
The rising number of blood-clot cases and the growing moves to suspend or limit shots have added to the uncertainty around the AstraZeneca vaccine, which many countries around the world were relying on for their immunization programs. The company has also faced questions over trial results and delivery schedules.
The UK continues to forge ahead on its program. The MHRA said that the 30 incidents were out of 18.1 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine given by March 24. Prior to that, the agency disclosed five cases on March 18, out of 11 million shots.
Although more research is needed to examine possible links, “the key thing to remember is how rare these brain clots are, and how powerful the proven benefit of vaccination is against Covid,” said David Werring, professor of clinical neurology at University College London’s Institute of Neurology.
With the new reports, the rate of incidents following the AstraZeneca shot in the UK is about 1 in 600,000. There were no reports of the same reactions to the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, which is also being used in Britain.
“On the basis of this ongoing review, the benefits of the vaccines against Covid-19 continue to outweigh any risks and you should continue to get your vaccine when invited to do so,” the MHRA said. The AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines have shown “very high levels of protection” against Covid-19, the agency said, adding that “all vaccines and medicines have some side effects.”
The UK has one of the world’s fastest-moving vaccine programs, administering shots to more than half of all adults by late March. New daily Covid cases and deaths have fallen to the lowest levels since September, even as infections surge again across much of the European Union, where immunizations have lagged.
Earlier this week, the EU drugs regulator said a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare type of blood clot is possible, identifying at least 62 cases of the condition. The European Medicines Agency said its safety committee will probably issue an updated recommendation next week.
Germany has restricted younger people from taking the AstraZeneca vaccine amid growing concerns about side effects. That followed reports of 31 cases of the rare clots, mostly in women.
Norway and Denmark extended suspensions on the use of the shot, which has also been the subject of a tussle over supplies between the EU, the UK, and others.
On Friday, Australia reported one case of clotting disorders following inoculation with the AstraZeneca vaccine and is investigating, according to a joint statement by government agencies.