Netherlands suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine - but experts say it's safe
The Netherlands has become the latest country to suspend its use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over fears of it possibly causing blood clots in recipients.
The Dutch government said that the move is a precaution, and it will stay in place until at least 29 March. Other countries that have taken similar measures include Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria, Iceland, Thailand and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
‘We can’t allow any doubts’
In a statement, Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said that the government was acting out of precaution following reports of the possible side effects from Denmark and Norway.
The Health Minister said: “We can’t allow any doubts about the vaccine.
“We have to make sure everything is right, so it is wise to pause for now.”
‘Blood clot reports to be expected’
In response to the news, AstraZeneca put out a statement defending the vaccine.
It said: “Following a recent concern raised around thrombotic events, AstraZeneca would like to offer its reassurance on the safety of its Covid-19 vaccine based on clear scientific evidence.
“Safety is of paramount importance and the company is continually monitoring the safety of its vaccine.”
Ann Taylor, Chief Medical Officer of AstraZeneca, said: “Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population.
“The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases and we are going beyond the stand practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety.”
'No indication of a link between vaccine and blood clots'
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that countries should continue to use the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, saying that there is no indication of a link between the jabs and blood clots.
The announcement came after Thailand said it would be delaying the use of the vaccine, following the trend of a number of European countries doing the same.
Speaking via video conference in Geneva, WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “As countries roll out Covid-19 vaccines, WHO is continuing to keep a close eye on their safety.
“WHO is aware that some countries have suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccines based on reports of blood clots in some people who have received doses of the vaccine from two batches.
“This measure was taken as a precaution while a full investigation is finalised.
“It’s important to note that the European Medicines Agency has said there is no indication of a link between the vaccine and blood clots and that the vaccine can continue to be used while its investigation is ongoing.”
‘Blood clots occur naturally in the population’
Dr Phil Bryan, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) vaccines safety lead, said: “The Danish, Norwegian and Icelandic authorities’ action to temporarily suspend use of the vaccine is precautionary whilst they investigate.
“Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon. More than 11 million doses of the Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine have now been administered across the UK.
“Reports of blood clots received so far are not greater than the number that would have occurred naturally in the vaccinated population.”
Professor Jon Gibbins, from the University of Reading, explained that blood clotting occurs for a variety of reasons, and is naturally quite common. He said that blood clotting affects one in two in 1,000 people in the general population.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) also backed the vaccine’s safety and said that there had only been 30 reports of blood clots among the close to five million people who have received the vaccine across Europe.
In a statement, the EMA said: “The position of EMA’s safety committee is that the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine can continue to be administered while investigation of cases of thromboembolic events is ongoing.”