WHO experts renew backing for AstraZeneca COVID jab

SENFTENBERG, GERMANY - MARCH 03: A nurse holds a vile of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 during the inoculation of patients at a private medical practice as part of a pilot project in the state of Brandenburg during the coronavirus pandemic on March 03, 2021 in Senftenberg, Germany. Several German states are allowing vaccinations against COVID-19 to begin in a limited number of private medical practices with the aim of expanding venues that offer the vaccines beyond the current mass vaccination centers. While Germany's vaccination rollout has been hampered by less than anticipated shipments of vaccine, the volume of shipments has begun increasing, leading to higher weekly numbers of vaccinations. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
A nurse holds a vile of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

The World Health Organization’s vaccine safety experts gave renewed backing to AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 jab on Friday, having reviewed reports of blood clotting after immunization.

The WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said the AstraZeneca jab “continues to have a positive benefit-risk profile, with tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths across the world.”

“The available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions such as deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism following administration of COVID-19 vaccines,” the committee said in a statement.

The statement followed the European Medicines Agency (EMA) giving their green light to the vaccine on Thursday.

The WHO committee said reported rates of so-called thromboembolic events after COVID-19 vaccines were in line with the expected number of diagnoses of these conditions.

Deep venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms “occur naturally and are not uncommon”, and also occur as a result of COVID-19, the experts said.

“The observed rates have been fewer than expected for such events,” they concluded.

“While very rare and unique thromboembolic events in combination with thrombocytopenia, such as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), have also been reported following vaccination with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Europe, it is not certain that they have been caused by vaccination.”

European regulators have reviewed 18 such cases out of more than 20 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccinations in Europe, and “a causal relationship between these rare events has not been established at this time”.

Several European countries resumed AstraZeneca vaccinations on Friday after the all-clear from the EU’s EMA authority.

Worries that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine may cause blood clots have seen countries from Venezuela to Indonesia pause its use in recent days.

Germany and Italy said they were using the jab again as of Friday after the EMA said it was “safe and effective”.

Other European countries including the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal are also ending their suspension.

The WHO vaccine safety experts recommended that countries continue monitoring COVID-19 vaccine safety, and report suspected adverse events.

They also agreed with the EMA’s plans to further investigate and monitor for such events.

The committee said health care professionals and people being vaccinated should be given instruction on recognizing the signs and symptoms of all serious adverse events after immunization with COVID-19 jabs.