AstraZeneca vaccine comes under further pressure in EU, UK

While the EMA says ‘possible link’ found between the jab and ‘unusual’ blood clots, the UK offers young people alternative shot due to risks.

The embattled AstraZeneca vaccine came under further pressure on Wednesday, as the European Union’s medicines regulator found a possible link between the shot and rare cases of blood clots, while the United Kingdom announced it would offer young people an alternative jab due to the risks.

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) widely anticipated verdict on Wednesday followed a review of dozens of reports of an extremely rare clot in the brain, known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), among recipients of the jab.

The regulator said as of Sunday, it had received reports of 169 cases of CVST from the 34 million doses of the shot administered in the European Economic Area.

It concluded that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of the vaccine, but recommended that vaccinations continue in adults, reiterating its stance that the benefits of the shot outweigh any risks.

“EMA is reminding healthcare professionals and people receiving the vaccine to remain aware of the possibility of very rare cases of blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets occurring within two weeks of vaccination,” the body said in a statement.

“So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within two weeks of vaccination. Based on the currently available evidence, specific risk factors have not been confirmed.”

EMA placed no new age restrictions on using the vaccine in people aged 18 and above, as some countries have done.

In a separate development, following its own review of reported blood clots, the United Kingdom’s independent Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency said people aged between 18 and 29 would be offered an alternative vaccine to the AstraZeneca shot.

Public opinion ‘battered’

Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said the EMA was clear that “COVID-19 is far more of a risk to the average person” than receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine and developing blood clots.

She added, however, that public opinion of the shot had been “battered” amid the blood clot fears.

“Those are the sort of problems that European governments will face now as they try to get the message across that this vaccine is safe and its benefits outweigh any risks,” she said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is critical to Europe’s immunisation campaign and is a pillar of the United Nations-backed programme known as COVAX, which aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

It is cheaper and easier to use than rival offerings from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna and has been endorsed for use in more than 50 countries.

The World Health Organization has given its backing to the shot and, like the EMA, has repeatedly said its benefits outweigh the potential risks of side effects.

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