SHARE
COPY LINK

COVID-19

AstraZeneca benefits outweigh risks, EMA says as EU orders 10 million more Pfizer doses

The EU's medicines regulator said Tuesday it was "firmly convinced" the benefits of AstraZeneca's vaccine outweigh potential risks, insisting there was no evidence linking it to blood clots after several nations suspended the shot over health fears. It came as Brussels sealed a deal for 10 million more Pfizer doses.

AstraZeneca benefits outweigh risks, EMA says as EU orders 10 million more Pfizer doses
This file illustration picture shows vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and a figurine taken in a studio Paris on March 11, 2021. Joel Saget/AFP

The suspensions have provoked intense debate over whether it was prudent to put AstraZeneca inoculations on hold just as vaccination campaigns were beginning to gather pace in many countries.

Experts at both the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency met Tuesday to discuss the vaccine, with the European organisation expected to publish conclusions Thursday.

While millions of doses of the vaccine developed with Oxford University have been administered, small numbers of people have developed blood clots, prompting countries including the European Union’s three largest nations – Germany, France and Italy – to suspend injections.

But the EMA insisted that countries should continue using the vaccine.

“We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death outweigh the risk of these side effects,” EMA chief Emer Cooke said Tuesday.

“At present there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions,” she added, echoing the WHO and drugmaker AstraZeneca itself.

Cooke noted however that the regulator was “looking at adverse events associated with all vaccines”.

France and Italy welcomed the news.

“Today’s preliminary statements from EMA are encouraging,” said a joint statement from French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Tuesday vowed he would be vaccinated “very quickly” with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to give the public confidence in the jab if it is ruled as safe by the EU medicines agency.

In France, health authorities said Tuesday they are investigating a new coronavirus variant found in the western Brittany region. The variant appears to be more difficult for nasal tests to detect, however for now it does not appear to be more dangerous or contagious.

Covid, not jab, to blame?

In Britain, which has administered more than 11 million AstraZeneca doses, experts see no evidence of more frequent blood clots among the inoculated.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in The Times newspaper that the shot “is safe and works extremely well”.

French immunologist Alain Fischer, who heads a government vaccination advisory board, said a higher than normal number of pulmonary embolisms – blood clots in the lungs – had caused alarm at the weekend.

“There were a few very unusual and troubling cases which justify this pause and the analysis,” Fischer told France Inter radio.

But one British scientist has argued that Covid-19 itself – and not the vaccine – could be to blame, as it was known to cause such problems.

The “very likely explanation of at least some of the clotting disorders seen are a result of Covid-19 rather than the vaccine”, said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmaco-epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“Hence, even if there were a problem, acknowledged to be very rare with the AZ vaccine, the overall benefit would be so much greater than any speculative harm,” he added.

Coronavirus deaths across Europe meanwhile passed the 900,000 mark on Tuesday, making it the worst-hit global region in absolute terms, according to an AFP tally.

10 million Pfizer doses

More than 382 million doses of vaccine have been administered globally, the vast majority in wealthier countries while many poorer nations have yet to receive a single jab.

AstraZeneca’s shot, among the cheapest available, was billed as the vaccine of choice for poorer nations and the clot reports have had an impact beyond Europe.

Other countries that have halted or delayed the rollout include Indonesia, Venezuela, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands – with Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Sweden the latest to join the list.

The pandemic spurred unprecedented efforts to develop vaccines, with a number of successful options now available.

Rollouts have been hampered by export controls, bitter diplomatic disputes and production issues – in addition to the AstraZeneca suspension.

But on Tuesday Brussels sealed a deal to step up deliveries of 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, now scheduled to arrive in the EU before July rather than in the third quarter.

And a new agreement for Germany’s IDT Biologika to help produce the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine would offer Europe greater certainty, Germany’s economy minister said.

The developers of Russia’s successful Sputnik V vaccine also said they had reached production agreements in key European countries.

Member comments

  1. Unbelievable. The country has never been sicker, and what does the government do? Take AstraZeneca out of its arsenal to fight the virus. And NOT ONE WORD about what we, with jab #1, are supposed to do about jab #2. It’s insanity.

  2. It’s all political, there has been no mention of the deaths and blood clots that have happened with the Pfizer?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

COVID-19

Austria in shock over doctor’s suicide following anti-vax abuse

Austrians expressed shock and anger this week over the suicide of doctor who had been the target of a torrent of abuse and threats from anti-vaccination protesters.

Austria in shock over doctor's suicide following anti-vax abuse

The bells of Vienna’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral rang out in memory of Lisa-Maria Kellermayr on Monday, and hundreds of people held a candle vigil outside, after the 36-year-old doctor was found dead at her practice on July 29.

She had long been the target of death threats because of her criticism of the widespread anti-lockdown protests of 2021.

An autopsy later confirmed that Kellermayr had taken her own life.

Austria has found itself deeply polarised over coronavirus restrictions and in particular a government policy –subsequently dropped — of making vaccination against the coronavirus compulsory.

Kellermayr — whose practice was in the region of Upper Austria where immunisation rates are particularly low — had frequently complained of the menace.

“For more than seven months, we have been receiving… death threats from those opposed to coronavirus measures and vaccinations,” she wrote at the time, sharing a message from one internet user who said they would pose as a patient in order to attack her and her staff.

She described how she had “invested more than 100,000 euros” ($102,000) in measures to ensure her patients’ safety and was on the brink of bankruptcy.

Then, at the end of June, Kellermayr announced on her professional website that she would not be seeing patients until further notice.

Daniel Landau, who organised a memorial vigil for her in Vienna, said that Kellermayr had become a virtual recluse for several weeks. “She didn’t dare to leave” her office, Landau told AFP.

Fanning the aggression

On Saturday, the head of Austria’s doctors’ association, Johannes Steinhart, said that while aggressive behaviour towards medical staff was not new, it had been “fired up and noticeably aggravated” by the debate over Covid-19 and vaccines.

The police, who had previously suggested Kellermayr was exploiting the situation for attention, insist they did everything to protect her. The local prosecutor’s office also rejected suggestions it could have done more.

“As soon as we received the police report (identifying one of the suspects), we sent it over to the relevant authorities in Germany,” spokesman Christoph Weber said.

On Friday, prosecutors in the neighbouring German state of Bavaria said a 59-year-old suspect was being investigated by a specialist hate speech unit.

At the beginning of the week, Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen visited the small town of Seewalchen where Kellermayr lived to lay flowers in her memory.

After news of her death broke, he had appealed to Austrians to “put an end to intimidation and fear”.

‘They’re gagging us’

But on some Telegram groups, the hateful messages continue.

“Some people are celebrating her death; others believe the vaccine killed her,” said Ingrid Brodnig, a journalist and author who investigates online disinformation.

“Stricts laws exist” already against online hate, but not enough is done to implement them, Brodnig said.

One government minister has floated the idea of a separate prosecutor’s office to target such cases. Doctors and researchers have also been targeted elsewhere.

French infectious disease specialist, Karine Lacombe, described how she had been vilified for her work as part of a collective of doctors combatting coronavirus-related disinformation.

She, too, complained that the response from the authorities in the face of threats was not robust enough, and has scaled down her public appearances this year.

“You end up thinking that the risk isn’t worth it,” she told AFP. “In that sense (the aggressors) have won, they are gagging us,” she said.

SHOW COMMENTS