Mon | Jul 26, 2021

EU regulator ‘convinced’ AstraZeneca benefit outweighs risk

Published:Tuesday | March 16, 2021 | 9:55 AM
In this Monday, March 15, 2021 file photo a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in a pharmacy in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris. At least a dozen countries including Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have now temporarily suspended their use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine after reports last week that some people in Denmark and Norway who got a dose developed blood clots, even though there's no evidence that the shot was responsible. The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization say the data available don't suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunised. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

BRUSSELS (AP) — With coronavirus cases rising in many places, governments faced the grimmest of dilemmas Tuesday: push on with a vaccine that is known to save lives or suspend use of AstraZeneca over reports of dangerous blood clots in a few recipients, even as the European regulator said there was “no indication” the shot was responsible.

It has created a jagged divide across the globe, forcing politicians to assess the health risks of halting the shots at a time when many countries, especially in Europe, are already struggling to overcome logistical hurdles and vaccine hesitancy among their populations.

Sweden was the latest to join a swelling group of European Union nations choosing caution over speed, even as the head of the European Medicines Agency said the agency is “firmly convinced” that the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh the risks.

Emer Cooke noted Tuesday that thousands of people across the EU develop thromboses every year for a variety of reasons and that there were no reports of increased blood clots in the clinical studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Still, experts would undertake a “very rigorous analysis” and make a recommendation Thursday, she said.

Europe has the luxury to be able to pick from several vaccine candidates — but the decision is still not an easy one on the continent, where the virus is again surging and where the vaccination campaign has repeatedly stumbled.

The choice may be even more fraught elsewhere because many countries are relying heavily on AstraZeneca, which is cheaper and easier to handle than some other shots.

The vaccine has so far played a huge role in the global initiative to ensure vaccines get to poorer countries known as COVAX.

The difficulty of the decision was clear in Thailand, the first country outside Europe to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, only to recant on Tuesday — when its prime minister received a dose.

“There are people who have concerns,” Prayuth Chan-ocha said after getting the shot.

“But we must believe doctors, believe in our medical professionals.”

Many other countries in Asia have likewise shrugged off concerns, though Indonesia halted use of the shot this week, saying it would wait for a World Health Organization report on the issue.

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