Eighteen countries have now suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine pending a review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) into concerns about it causing serious blood clots. They are: Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Iceland, Portugal, Ireland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Slovenia, Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Cyprus, Latvia, Indonesia and Venezuela.
Many scientists and commentators have criticised the regulators and governments taking these decisions as misapplying the precautionary principle – in a number of cases, as Toby notes, speaking without a hint of self-awareness as those same commentators have been cheerleaders of the lockdowns for the last 12 months, typically justified through an abuse of the precautionary principle on scant data.
The head of Italy’s medicines regulator, Nicola Magrini, today claimed the bans across Europe were part of a politically driven snowball effect with countries within the EU coming under pressure to follow suit. Given the hard time European countries have given the Oxford jab in recent weeks (definitely not because it’s British, of course) – swinging, as Ross Clark remarks, “from accusing the company – and Britain – of hoarding the vaccine and failing to supply it to EU countries, to claiming that it is ineffective, back to accusing us of hoarding it again” – it is easy to buy this argument and suspect the actions are not simply all about safety. If that is so, you have to wonder what these governments think they’re doing, playing politics with vaccines, and whether their electorates will thank them for depriving them of long-awaited inoculations for the sake of scoring a few points against renegade Blighty and awkward AstraZeneca.
Is there anything to the concerns? Commentators today have been quick to point out that COVID-19 is “100,000 times more dangerous, compared to the tiny possibility of an issue with clotting”. There is also the inconsistency (raising questions of politics again) of targeting the AstraZeneca vaccine when, according to data from the MHRA, more people have reported blood clots after having the Pfizer vaccine than the Oxford one – up to February 28th there were 38 reports from 11.5 million doses of Pfizer, compared to 30 from 9.7m of AstraZeneca.
On the other hand, blood disorders as a whole have been reported at more than twice the rate in relation to the AstraZeneca shot compared with Pfizer, while a letter in the BMJ yesterday argued that if you look at reports of deep vein thrombosis and vascular (blood vessel) disorders then the Oxford vaccine comes out much worse.