Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke
The World Health Organization has urged countries to continue using the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after several European countries, including Germany, Italy, Spain and France, halted their jab rollouts over reports of blood clots.
Boris Johnson said there was “no reason at all” to stop the vaccine’s rollout and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would accept her jab “without hesitation” when called on.
Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride also urged people to retain confidence in the jab as he received his first dose of the AstraZeneca version on Monday.
The WHO said its advisory panel was reviewing reports and would release its findings as soon as possible.
It added it said it was unlikely to change its recommendations.
“As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and stem severe disease from the virus,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is also currently investigating the reports but in a statement on Monday, it said Covid-19 posed a far greater threat to people than the risk of side effects from the vaccine - a view echoed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The EMA said that, as of 10 March, there were just 30 reports of clots among almost five million people given the vaccine across Europe.
In a statement, the EMA said on Monday: "While its investigation is ongoing, EMA currently remains of the view that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of side effects."
Tom Clarke on the latest AstraZeneca vaccine developments
"EMA’s investigation has been continuing over the weekend, and rigorous analysis of all the data related to thromboembolic events will be carried out in the coming days," the bloc's vaccine regulator continued.
"Experts are looking in great detail at all the available data and clinical circumstances surrounding specific cases to determine whether the vaccine might have contributed or if the event is likely to have been due to other causes."
While Mariangela Simao, WHO Assistant Director General for Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals, said: "The recommendation at this point is that the risk benefit of not vaccinating using AstraZeneca vaccines in other vaccines outweigh the risk of the Covid infection, which we know has a significant impact on people with severe disease, hospitalisation and death."
Spain and Cyprus became the latest European countries to suspend the use of Oxford/AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on Monday evening, following France, Italy and Germany in halting their vaccination programmes.
On Monday, Germany's Health Ministry said the move is a "precaution" taken on the advice of its national vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute. The organisation has called for further investigation of the cases.
The German government said EMA would decide “whether and how the new information will affect the authorisation of the vaccine.”French president Emmanuel Macron told a news conference on Monday that French authorities have decided to suspend jabs at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the EMA will issue its recommendation over the vaccine. He didn’t elaborate on the reasons for the decision.
He said France hopes to be able to vaccine again with AstraZeneca jabs “soon.”
Italy’s medicines agency, Aifa, said the decision “was taken in line with similar measures adopted by other European countries.”
The announcement came a day after the latest known death of a person in Italy shortly after receiving the vaccine. A 57-year-old clarinet teacher, who received the vaccine in the northern Piedmont region on Saturday evening died at home early Sunday morning.
Autopsies have been ordered for that death, as well as to a handful of other deaths last week of others in Italy who had received the vaccine.
Several other countries, including Cyprus, Thailand, Denmark and Norway, have temporarily suspended their Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine rollout over the last week. They have done so in order to investigate reports that blood clots developed after vaccination.
In response to the suspensions of its vaccine, AstraZeneca said it had carefully reviewed the data on 17 million people who received doses across Europe. It said there was “no evidence of an increased risk” of blood clots in any age group or gender in any country. The overwhelming scientific opinion in the UK is that there is no certain link between blood clots and the vaccine, and the reported cases could easily be coincidental.
The UK's Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the EMA and the WHO have echoed this stance, saying the available data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots. The organisations continue to urge people to attend their vaccination appointments.
Dr Phil Bryan, vaccines safety lead at MHRA, said reports are being reviewed and people should still get their vaccine when called to do so. He said: "We are closely reviewing reports but the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause. "Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon. "More than 11 million doses of the AZ vaccine have now been administered across the UK, and the number of blood clots reported after having the vaccine is not greater than the number that would have occurred naturally in the vaccinated population. "We are working closely with international counterparts in understanding the global safety experience of Covid-19 vaccines and on the rapid sharing of safety data and reports."
Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said there was “no demonstrable difference” in the number of blood clots seen between the general population and the 11 million who have so far received the jab.
Which countries have suspended rollouts of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab?
Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Lithuania have banned jabs from one particular batch of one million AstraZeneca vaccines, which was sent to 17 countries, after reports of a death.
Listen to the ITV News coronavirus podcast: