European Union medicines chief is 'firmly convinced' AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine is worth getting

AstraZeneca vaccine
(Image credit: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Sweden joined its Scandinavian neighbors and several other European countries on Tuesday in suspending use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, citing reports of blood clotting among vaccine recipients. Thirteen European Union countries — including Germany, France, Italy, and Spain — have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine until a review, expected Thursday, from the EU's drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency. EMA chief Emer Cooke urged those nations to resume vaccinations.

"We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19 with its associated risk of hospitalization and death outweigh the risk of the side effects," Cooke said Tuesday. "At present there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions," but "this is a serious concern and it does need serious and detailed scientific evaluation." The World Health Organization and AstraZeneca also say there's no evidence the vaccine increases risk of blood clots.

Health authorities in the countries suspending use of the vaccine concede the lack of evidence but say they are acting out of an abundance of caution. Even with Poland, Romania, Greece, Belgium, and other EU countries continuing to use AstraZeneca's vaccine, almost half the bloc's 15 million doses are lying in storage even as European countries struggle to vaccinate their populations.

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Somalia's health minister and Thailand's prime minister got the AstraZeneca vaccine publicly to boost confidence in the shot. Thailand was the first non-European country to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine but reversed course Tuesday. "There are people who have concerns," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said after getting the shot. "But we must believe doctors, believe in our medical professionals."

AstraZeneca got more bad news Tuesday when a study from South Africa published in The New England Journal of Medicine showed the vaccine offered essentially no protection against mild or moderate infections from the South African variant of the coronavirus, B.1.351.

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