The World Health Organization (WHO) said that it was still conducting its safety review of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine as more European countries have suspended the use of this jab following reports that some recipients developed blood clots and died after being inoculated. Since March 12, "several countries have suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccine as a precautionary measure after reports of blood clots in people who had received the vaccine from two batches produced in Europe", WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing in Geneva on Monday.
However, he added that "this does not necessarily mean these events are linked to vaccination, but it's routine practice to investigate them and it shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place".
He emphasized that the WHO's Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has been reviewing the available data, is in close contact with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and will meet on Tuesday.
The European nations that have halted the usage of the vaccine are France Germany, Italy, Spain, Slovenia, Cyprus, Portugal, Austria, Bulgaria, Denmark, Romania, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, the Netherlands, as well as non-EU countries of Norway and Iceland.
Tedros said that "the greatest threat that most countries face now is lack of access to vaccines", as "some of the world's richest countries are buying enough vaccines to immunise their populations several times over", while many other countries have nothing.
The WHO chief continued to call on all countries to work in solidarity to ensure that vaccination begins within the first 100 days of this year.
"No country can simply vaccinate its way out of this pandemic alone. We are all in this together," he said.
Vaccine rollout unaffected by concerns over AstraZeneca: WHO
The UN health agency said its global rollout of coronavirus vaccines remains unaffected even as a growing number of countries have raised concerns of blood clots in some people who received it. The WHO says the AstraZeneca vaccines for its COVAX program, which is shipping vaccines mostly to low- and middle-income countries, are being produced in India and South Korea — and the suspensions have been ordered over batches made in Europe.
“We understand these are precautionary measures,” WHO assistant director-general Mariangela Simao said. “I would like to say this to countries from other regions that are not Europe: That the vaccines (at issue) so far are from European manufacturing, not vaccines that are provided through the COVAX facility.”
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s chief scientist, noted that 300 million doses of coronavirus vaccines have been injected around the world, and there is no documented death linked to any one of them.
She said the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine “are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population.”
WHO says its current recommendation is that the benefits of using AstraZeneca’s vaccine and others to fight COVID-19 — which has killed more than 2.6 million people worldwide — far outweigh the risks.