Public health expert says Oxford-AstraZeneca shot critical to Europe's immunizations

World | 7 Apr 2021 11:03 pm

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine over the rare blood clots issue, AP reports.

Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the  European Medicines Agency  said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Meanwhile, Britain, which relies heavily on Oxford-AstraZeneca, never suspended use of the vaccine.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

That’s because the vaccine is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to Europe’s immunization campaign and a pillar of the U.N.-backed program known as Covax that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries. It has been endorsed for use in more than 50 countries, including by the 27-nation EU and WHO. U.S. authorities are still evaluating the vaccine.

The governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters on Wednesday.

The latest suspension of Oxford-AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y León region, where health chief Verónica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

“If there are in fact individuals of a certain age group that could have a higher risk (of clotting) then we need to adjust its use,” Casado told Spanish public radio. “We are not questioning AstraZeneca. We need all the vaccines possible to reach the goal of 70 percent of the adult population.”

 



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