A review by the vaccine safety group from the World Health Organization (WHO) based on available data found no increased risk of blood clotting conditions in people who received the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which it says has great potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths.
Meanwhile, similar findings from European regulators yesterday led to resumed immunizations in many countries in Europe, where COVID-19 activity is spiking amid slow rollout of the vaccine.
Group casts broad net for safety data
In a statement, the WHO said its global vaccine safety group met on Mar 16 and Mar 19 and covered some of the same ground the European Medicines Agency (EMA) review included, but also examined data from 27 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine administered in India. It also looked at its own global database of safety reports.
At a WHO media briefing today, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said there's no question that COVID-19 is a deadly disease and that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine can prevent it, and he said the WHO urges countries to continue using the important tool. "The AstraZeneca vaccine is especially important because it accounts for more than 90% of the vaccines being distributed through COVAX."
The WHO's safety group concluded that current data don't suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions after COVID-19 vaccination, and that the rates of the conditions are fewer than expected. It noted that clotting conditions occur naturally and can occur as a result of COVID-19 vaccination.
The group said it's not certain that the thromboembolic events reported from Europe, which number 18 among 20 million immunizations, were caused by the vaccine. It urged that health providers and people receiving vaccines be educated on how to recognize all symptoms of serious adverse events after vaccination to enable prompt treatment if they occur.
The group urged countries to continue to monitor the safety of all COVID-19 vaccines and agreed with the EMA's decision to continue investigating and monitoring the events.
Many, but not all, nations restart immunization
Meanwhile, following announcements yesterday from the EMA and UK regulators that the vaccine is safe and immunization should continue, more than a dozen countries restarted their programs, including Germany, Italy, and Indonesia, according to Reuters.
France recommended using the vaccine again, but only for those older than 55, following an EMA finding that it couldn't rule out an increased thrombosis risk in people younger than 55, based on a review of cases and background rates of blood clotting conditions in those who are and aren't vaccinated.
However, some countries—including Denmark, Sweden, and Norway—are continuing their pauses while they gather more information, according to CNN.
Elsewhere, Cameroon suspended use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, just as it is about to receive shipments of the vaccine from COVAX, according to Reuters.
Outbreaks intensify in parts of Europe
In some European countries, where the more transmissible B117 variant is becoming more dominant, growing outbreaks led to more lockdown orders, including in some country capitals. France ordered a 1-month lockdown for Paris and parts of the country's north, with B117 accounting for about 75% cases amid a slow vaccine rollout, according to Reuters. The country's health minister said intensive care units (ICUs), especially in Paris, are under severe strain.
Also, Bosnia announced a 2-week lockdown for Sarajevo starting today, amid soaring cases, much of it from the B117 variant and a slow vaccine rollout, according to the Washington Post. Yesterday at a briefing from the World Health Organization (WHO) European regional office, its director Hans Henri Kluge, MD, MPH, said cases in the region are on the rise, with the situation most acute in central Europe, the Balkans, and the Baltic states, which are currently experiencing the highest incidence of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the world.
Elsewhere, German officials warned that vaccination won't stop the country's third surge, and an expert from the Robert Koch Institute said the country's rise in COVID-19 cases is exponential and urged people not to travel over Easter.
In other global headlines:
- In Brazil, city officials in Rio de Janeiro closed beaches and other outdoor activities over the weekend to curb the spread of the virus, which is causing a deepening outbreak that has overwhelmed ICU capacity in many areas, according to Reuters.
- The global total today topped 122 million cases and is at 122,036,229 cases with 2,694,915 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.