The problem child of COVID-19 vaccines was back in the news this week. After South Africa suspended the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s use when it failed to slow the spread of the predominant B.1.351 variant, vaccination using this vaccine has been suspended and then resumed in many European countries following reports of blood clots in some people who received it.
According to a release from AstraZeneca, there have been 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis and 22 cases of pulmonary embolism in people who have gotten the vaccine, as of March 8. These are serious complications—seven of those people died. Countries that suspended the vaccine’s use include Spain, Italy, France, and Germany, among others. (Europe tends to act as more of a bloc than North America when it comes to vaccines. Consider: Canada has authorized use of the AstraZeneca vaccine while the US has literal fridges full of the stuff just sitting there waiting for approval.)
Since the initial suspension, investigations have been launched and apparently concluded that there is no causative relationship between the vaccine and these symptoms. According to Emer Cooke, the executive director of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), in a press conference on March 18: “The committee… concluded that the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots.”
And, according to the WHO on March 17: “At this time, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.” Europe has since started to resume vaccinating with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, starting with France, Germany, and Italy. (Except not in Finland, where they just suspended it again after two people got similar blood clots.)
So all’s well that ends well right? Well, not necessarily. Besides that Finland wrinkle, some scientists and officials are concerned that this entire rigmarole could undermine public trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine. It’s worth noting that a tiny population experienced these effects out of the millions of people who have already gotten the vaccine. And blood clots are fairly common in the population; you’re going to expect some people to develop them just by sheer chance. But it’s also worth noting that these complications are serious, and rare among the age group that they were reported in. Not slowing down could have the same fear-inducing effect. As Shobita Parthasarathy says in her Slate column, “[T]his crisis isn’t about science at all. It’s about public trust, and scared citizens cannot be easily convinced by expertise that feels remote. Our solutions need to reflect that.”
We’ll see if anything else happens. But in the meantime, the US has since promised to share its stockpile of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine with Canada and Mexico, so it looks like it’s at least medium-steam ahead for now.
More vaccine posts
- there might be a link between the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and those blood clots after allThis week, authorities had enough data to posit a possible connection between blood clots known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The EMA has now advised, as of April 7, that “that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of Vaxzevria (formerly COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca).” They are still recommending its use given the gravity of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s another blow to the vaccine that held much of the world’s hopes in inoculating the entire population. A mechanism by which the vaccine is causing these thromboses has not been discovered.
- CDC says 80% of teachers and childcare workers are vaccinated, fails to provide more specificsThis past Tuesday, April 6, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention put out a press release that I found heartening, yet confusing. “Nearly 80 percent of teachers, school staff, and childcare workers receive at least one shot of COVID-19 vaccine,” the release proclaims. These vaccinations include “more than 2 million” people in these professions who received doses through the federal retail pharmacy program and “5-6 million” vaccinated through state programs, all of whom received shots before the end of March.
- COVID source shout-out: New York expands eligibilityThis week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced two major expansions for vaccine eligibility. State residents age 30 and older became eligible starting on March 30, and residents age 16 and older became eligible starting on April 6. This expansion allowed two of my favorite vaccine communicators to get their shots!
- Pfizer for the whole pfamilyGood news for people with kids: this week, Pfizer and BioNTech released results for their trial involving adolescents aged 12-15. In the trial, no participants who received the vaccine contracted symptomatic COVID-19 out of a total of 2,260 participants, marking an efficacy rate of 100%.