WHO experts say countries should keep using AstraZeneca jab

Geneva | Thu, March 18, 2021 | 07:31 pm

World Health Organization experts on Wednesday recommended countries continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine, but said they were looking into the jab’s safety after a slew of countries suspended its use over health fears. After many countries expressed concerns of blood clots or brain haemorrhages, the WHO, Europe’s medicines regulator, and AstraZeneca all said the vaccine was safe. The suspensions have disrupted a global vaccination campaign aimed at putting an end to a year-long pandemic that has already taken the lives of over 2.6 million people since it started in China in late 2019.

The WHO’s vaccine experts, however, said Wednesday that taking the AstraZeneca vaccine was still preferable to not taking it, and that they were looking into the available data on the vaccine. The World Health Organization’s Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Protection is “carefully reviewing the latest available safety data,” according to a statement from the UN health agency.

“At this time, WHO believes the advantages of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the dangers, and vaccines should be continued.” The advice echoed a similar statement issued by the European Medicines Agency on Tuesday, which advised countries to keep using the vaccine despite the lack of a connection to clots.

In a statement, the Amsterdam-based agency said it would hold an extraordinary meeting on Thursday to finalize its blood clot results and “make any appropriate recommendations for further action.” Following reports of blood clots and brain hemorrhages in people who obtained the vaccine, some nations, including France, Venezuela, and Indonesia, decided not to use it.

The British-Swedish jab has been dogged by controversy since its introduction, with some countries initially recommending it for people over 65 and then retracting their recommendation, citing a lack of evidence for those in the age group who had taken the shot.

The firm later sparred with the EU, which accused it of failing to fulfil vaccine contracts after the bloc’s immunization campaign came under fire for a sputtering start.

– ‘Crisis of the century’ –

On Wednesday, the EU Commission’s president threatened to enforce export restrictions to prohibit EU suppliers from sending vaccines outside the bloc in order to ensure “reciprocity” from other vendors. Ursula von der Leyen singled out Britain, accusing it of enforcing a de facto export ban in order to achieve domestic vaccine success, which London vehemently denies.

Despite the fact that 10 million doses from other suppliers had entered the UK from the EU, she said the EU was “actively waiting” for its AstraZeneca orders to come out of British production sites. “This is an invitation to show us that there are doses from the United Kingdom coming to the European Union as well,” she said. The alert came as the EU chief announced plans for a digital certificate that would enable vaccinated citizens to travel freely inside the bloc.

The exemption may also extend to people who have recently had a negative test or who have been previously infected and therefore have antibodies, she said, calling the pandemic “the crisis of the century.” Governments are hoping that vaccinations will pave the way for a return to normalcy, more than a year after the pandemic that has thrown the planet into chaos and forced most of society to abide by anti-virus restrictions.

After the first round of anti-virus initiatives shut down the party last year, St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Ireland were dampened for the second year in a row, with the country still facing restrictions. “It’s been a year, and we seem to be right where we began,” publican Tom Cleary said, perched on a Dublin barstool next to a Guinness tap shaped like a Celtic harp. He told AFP, “It’s sad there’s no end in sight.” “Will we be here with the same problems next St. Patrick’s Day?”

– New lockdowns –

More than 382 million vaccine doses have been distributed worldwide, the vast majority in wealthier countries, although many developing countries have yet to receive a single dose. AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which was among the cheapest on the market, was marketed as the The clot alerts have spread beyond Europe, and the vaccine of choice for developing countries.

The suspensions come as some countries experience alarmingly high new caseloads, such as Iraq and India, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called for “immediate and decisive action” to stem a new wave of infection. President Emmanuel Macron of France was expected to make a decision on whether to impose a weekend lockout on the Paris area on Wednesday, as the country grappled with its own third wave of infections that have clogged hospital ICUs..

In the South Pacific, Papua New Guinea’s health minister launched an urgent appeal for vaccinations to stave off a surge of new diseases, while Poland declared a three-week partial lockdown of its own. “The community transmission is out there,” Jelta Wong told AFP, “and I’m pretty sure we haven’t found a lot of it.” He added that his country was “working at full speed” to prevent further spread.

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