WHO backs safety of AstraZeneca vaccine ahead of key EU meeting

The World Health Organization has backed the safety of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine ahead of a key announcement from European safety experts later today.

Several major European countries including Germany, Italy and France have temporarily suspended use of the vaccine amid fears that it could be linked to blood clots.

There have been cases of blood clots after administration of the vaccine, but it’s a common health condition and data so far suggest that rates of blood clots in the vaccinated population are lower than in the general population.

Underlying the regulators’ decision is a whiff of politics, as several journalists pointed out in a press briefing with the European Medicines Agency yesterday.

The EU ordered its vaccines from AstraZeneca much later than the UK and some states have been quick to blame the pharma company for delivery shortfalls.

Later today the EMA’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee is due to make an announcement on the safety of the vaccine following a fast review.

In a statement the WHO noted the decision by some EU countries to suspend use of the vaccine, noting that other EU states, having considered the same information, have decided to continue using it as part of their immunisation programme.

The WHO noted in its statement that vaccination against COVID-19 will not reduce illness or deaths from other causes.

The WHO added: “Thromboembolic events are known to occur frequently. Venous thromboembolism is the third most common cardiovascular disease globally.

“In extensive vaccination campaigns, it is routine for countries to signal potential adverse events following immunisation.

“This does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to vaccination itself, but it is good practice to investigate them. It also shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place.

“WHO is in regular contact with the European Medicines Agency and regulators around the world for the latest information on COVID-19 vaccine safety.

“The WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety is carefully assessing the latest available safety data for the AstraZeneca vaccine. Once that review is completed, WHO will immediately communicate the findings to the public.

“At this time, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.”

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