Countries should continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, arguing its benefits outweigh any risks as the world continues to reel from the coronavirus pandemic.
Hans Kluge, WHO director for Europe, made his appeal on Thursday after more than a dozen European countries stopped using the vaccine following scattered reports of blood clots as possible serious side effects.
“As of now, we do not know whether some or all of the conditions have been caused by the vaccine or by other coincidental factors,” Kluge said.
“At this point in time, however, the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine far outweigh its risks – and its use should continue, to save lives.”
The European Union’s medicines regulator – the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – on Wednesday issued a similar message of reassurance about the vaccine, saying it was “convinced” of its safety, as it investigates a small number of cases of blood clots in the region.
The EMA’s expert committee was set to announce the results of its investigation later on Thursday.
The EMA’s probe is focused on 30 cases of unusual blood disorders out of five million recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
EMA head Emer Cooke said the agency’s priority was establishing the vaccine’s safety and that it would consider whether any warnings were needed for its use.
She noted the daily toll COVID-19 is continuing to take across the continent and said vaccines were critical to stopping its spread.
“We are worried that there may be an effect on the trust of the vaccines,” she said. “But our job is to make sure that the products that we authorise are safe and we can be trusted by the European citizens.”
Her comments came after a number of European countries suspended immunisation using the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was jointly developed with the United Kingdom’s University of Oxford.
The furore comes as COVID-19 surges across the continent and as the UK is expecting major delays in its vaccine deliveries.
Tens of thousands of new daily cases have prompted fresh lockdown measures in Italy, caused hospitalisations in France to spike and led German officials to announce that a third wave of COVID-19 has begun.