Updated 15/03/2021 (10:15 GMT): Ireland and the Netherlands have become the latest countries to suspend the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Experts in the UK have continued to be critical of the approach taken by certain countries in the EU, arguing that the suspensions are based on little evidence and could undermine trust in the vaccines.
Updated 15/03/2021 (16:00 GMT): France and Germany have followed suit, halting the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot.
A number of European countries have suspended the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine following a small number of reports of people developing blood clots after getting the shot.
However, this move is just a precautionary measure. Out of the five million people in Europe who have received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, there have been 30 cases of "thromboembolic events."
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has looked to calm fears, launching a preliminary investigation into the issue that found there is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these complications. Many other independent scientists in the UK have also said the news shouldn't necessarily cause alarm, noting the suspension is a "super-cautious approach" and the overwhelming majority of evidence shows the vaccines are safe.
The concerns surround specific batches of the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot: batches ABV5300 and ABV2856. According to BBC News, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland have temporarily suspended the rollout of all AstraZeneca vaccines, while Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Luxembourg have suspended the use of batches ABV5300. Italy and Romania have suspended the use of ABV2856.
The mixed bag of suspensions comes after reports that a small number of people developed clots soon after receiving the vaccine. This week, the Danish Health Authority announced that one person in Denmark had died from a blood clot after receiving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Austria's health authorities also said that one person was diagnosed with multiple blood clots and died 10 days after vaccination, while another was hospitalized with a blockage in arteries in the lungs after being vaccinated. Two deaths in Sicily related to blood clots in people who were vaccinated have also been reported.
However, the EMA explains that there is currently no evidence to suggest there is a causal link between the deaths and vaccines, adding that the risk of blood clots in vaccinated people currently appears to be no higher than that seen in the general population.
"When something bad happens after you have had a vaccination, it’s natural enough to wonder whether the vaccine was the cause. However, when very large numbers of people are being vaccinated over a short period of time, a certain number of unexpected and unusual illnesses are going to happen in the period following vaccination by chance," commented Professor Adam Finn, Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Bristol in the UK.
"Genuine problems with a batch are very rare and almost always relate to contamination by bacteria or physical (e.g. glass) particles detected by the manufacturer," adds Professor Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
"Pausing the use in this case is not evidence-based," he explains. "It is not known whether there are non-scientific reasons for the actions taken by some EU countries."