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Thrombosis and embolism: AstraZeneca vaccine problems – should we be worried?

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Manish Saini
Manish works as a Journalist and writer at Revyuh.com. He has studied Political Science and graduated from Delhi University. He is a Political engineer, fascinated by politics, and traditional businesses. He is also attached to many NGO's in the country and helping poor children to get the basic education. Email: Manish (at) revyuh (dot) com

A number of countries around the world have suspended the use of the drug. But most scientists urge not to panic and continue vaccination. How common have blood clots been after the AstraZeneca jab?

After reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine against coronavirus infection COVID-19 could cause serious side effects and even death of patients, several countries have suspended its use. 

The World Health Organization has yet to find evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine is associated with incidents of poor health in those vaccinated. The company itself also talks about the safety of its drug.

Why the world is scared of AstraZeneca covid vaccine

Last week, several countries discontinued the British-Swedish vaccine due to fatal cases of blood clots in those vaccinated with the drug. Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Italy, Austria, Romania, Bulgaria, Thailand, Ireland, and South Africa have suspended the vaccine.

On March 15, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Indonesia also suspended vaccination with AstraZeneca. In Ireland, the regulator has recommended that the authorities also suspend the use of AstraZeneca.

“The German government as a precautionary measure suspends vaccination with the drug AstraZeneca, following the latest recommendation of the Paul Ehrlich Institute,” as explained by the German Ministry of Health. The Paul Ehrlich Institute is responsible for drug control.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that the ban on the use of the drug will remain in effect until the conclusions of the pan-European regulator, reports Reuters. The European Medicines Agency is expected to make a statement on AstraZeneca on Tuesday.

The regulator had previously called for continued use of the vaccine: “The benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, and the vaccine can continue to be used while the investigation of thromboembolic events continues.

The reason for the refusal was the reports that the use of this drug can provoke the formation of blood clots. Several deaths have been recorded, which are associated with the vaccine from AstraZeneca.

The British-Swedish company said on March 14 that its available data did not confirm that its vaccine caused blood clots in those vaccinated.

“A detailed study of the health status of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and Britain showed no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia in people of different ages, sexes, nationalities,” AstraZeneca said.

They noted that in the European Union and Britain there were 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis and 22 cases of pulmonary embolism in vaccinated patients, and these figures are “lower than one would expect.”

“This data is similar to what we see with other registered vaccines,” said Ann Taylor, head of AstraZeneca’s medical department.

The World Health Organization said on March 15 that it has yet to find evidence that the AstraZeneca vaccine is linked to incidents of ill health. As noted by the spokesman for the WHO Christian Lindmeier, on Monday the organization reviewed reports on accidents with those vaccinated with this drug.

“There is no evidence at this time that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so we can save lives,” Lindmeier said.

Later, the director-general of the organization, Tedros Ghebreyesus, said that the WHO Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety on March 16 will consider issues related to the safety of the drug from AstraZeneca.

“The WHO Vaccine Safety Committee has reviewed the available evidence in close contact with the European Medicines Agency and will meet tomorrow,” said the head of WHO.

Suspension will do more harm

AstraZeneca is the so-called adenovirus vaccine. This means that it contains a part of the virus that works like a kind of Trojan horse that carries information into cells. The body then begins to produce a protein that the immune system can respond to.

“The principle on which this vaccine is based has been tested in other drugs, for example, against Ebola and HIV. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine also works this way. And also the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, and, as far as I know, one of the Chinese ones,” – said the Danish virologist Allan Randrup Thomsen.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is 62.6 percent effective after two doses, significantly less than other COVID-19 vaccines. However, a vaccine is considered effective if it is more than 50 percent effective.

Immunity after vaccination with AstraZeneca appears 14 days after the second dose. It is not yet clear how long the immunity lasts, but there is a possibility that it may not occur if there were no adverse reactions after vaccination.

According to the WHO and the European Medicines Agency, AstraZeneca causes the following adverse reactions:

  • sensitivity at the injection site 63.7 percent
  • pain at the injection site – 54.2 percent
  • fatigue 53.1 percent
  • headache 52.6 percent
  • general malaise 44.2 percent
  • muscle pain 44 percent
  • slight temperature rise 33.6 percent
  • chills 31.9 percent
  • joint pain 26.4 percent
  • nausea 21.9 percent
  • high fever (> 38C) 7.9 percent

Many doctors, scientists and experts assess the suspension of vaccination with AstraZeneca negatively. Serious blood clots in vaccinated Europeans are within typical proportions and are not cause for concern.

Some scientists say the risk of acute blood clots from severe COVID-19 – a known symptom in some cases – may be worse than the potential risks from the vaccine itself.

“The solution is likely to do more harm than prevent vaccine complications that we don’t even know yet if they are vaccine complications at all,” says Matthias Pletz, director of the Institute of Infectious Medicine and Hospital Hygiene at Jena University.

Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the decision to suspend vaccinations was “a super-cautious approach based on a few isolated cases in Europe.”

“The problem with spontaneous reporting of suspected vaccine adverse reactions is that it is extremely difficult to distinguish a causal effect from a coincidence,” the professor said.

Professor Jean-Daniel Lelievre, head of the Department of Clinical Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Henri-Mondor Hospital in France, calls the risk of the AstraZeneca vaccine “hypothetical”, while its benefits have already been proven.

He noted that thrombosis was also listed among the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine, but this did not cause much panic.

As the Wall Street Journal notes, relations between European countries and AstraZeneca have been tense from the outset. Some countries initially limited the use of the vaccine for older people.

In addition, AstraZeneca has fallen short of its delivery commitments to the bloc’s countries by irritating European leaders who are already under fire for the slow pace of vaccinations.

The Financial Times has learned the day before that the supply problems are partly due to the fact that the plant in the Netherlands specified in the contract has not yet transferred a single dose.

The plant in Leiden is named the main producer of the active ingredient in the vaccine, along with the plant in Cenef, Belgium.

The Leiden facility, which is operated by a subcontractor to Halix, is expected to produce at least five million doses and ship them to the EU.

Vaccines are being produced at the plant, but it has not yet received approval for supplies from the European Medicines Agency. For this, AstraZeneca has not yet provided the regulator with all the necessary data, reports FT.

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