The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said Wednesday it has found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and rare cases of blood system blockages, known as blood clots.
The EMA announcement is the latest setback for a low-cost vaccine that was once called a “vaccine for the world.” The AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved for emergency use in over 100 countries including Britain and the European Union. The vaccine is also a large part of the United Nations COVAX program to provide COVID-19 vaccines to poorer countries.
The agency advised that blood system blockages should be listed as “side effects” of the vaccine. It said women under the age of 60 represent most of the cases of blood clots reported so far. The problems, the agency said, happened within two weeks of vaccination. The EMA said it was not “possible to identify specific risk factors.”
EMA chief Emer Cooke spoke to reporters Wednesday. She said the risk of death from COVID is much greater than the risk of death from these side effects.
In this file photo taken on March 24, 2021, a health worker prepares the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot at the Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain.
The EMA and the World Health Organization have said repeatedly that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective.
Setbacks from the start
Early in the pandemic, the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed with Britain’s University of Oxford, was considered a leading candidate against the coronavirus. It costs much less than other vaccines. It also does not require extreme cold storage, making it easier to use in countries with limited resources.
Last September, the company temporarily suspended the trials of the vaccine after a volunteer in Britain developed inflammation in her spine. It was later found to be unrelated to the vaccine but led to a long delay in the United States.
In March, about 13 European countries suspended their use of AstraZeneca vaccine after reports of possible blood clots linked to the shot. Most restarted with some age restrictions after the EMA said countries should continue to use the vaccine.
A week later, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a U.S. health agency, released an unusual statement saying that “AstraZeneca might have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.”
On Wednesday, the Reuters news agency reported that EU health ministers planned to meet after the EMA’s announcement.
Even officials in Asia said they were waiting to hear the EMA’s decision. South Korea had temporarily suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. The country’s health officials said Wednesday that they would also pause a plan to vaccinate teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the results of the EMA’s review.
Dr. Peter English was a former head of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee. He said questions over the vaccine could have serious consequences around the world.
English told the Associated Press, “We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic.”
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Words in This Story
setback - n. a problem that makes progress more difficult
specific - adj. precise or exact
factor - n. one of the thing that causes something to happen
inflammation - n. a condition in which a part of your body becomes, red, swollen and painful