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7 UK AstraZeneca recipients die of clots; regulator: Benefits outweigh risks

‘Extreme rarity’ of blood-clotting events after millions of shots administered means receiving the vaccine is by far the safest choice, expert says

People wait to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at the SSE Arena which has been converted into a temporary COVID-19 vaccination center, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 29, 2021. (Paul Faith / AFP)
People wait to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at the SSE Arena which has been converted into a temporary COVID-19 vaccination center, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 29, 2021. (Paul Faith / AFP)

LONDON — The UK medical regulator said Saturday that out of 30 people who suffered blood clots after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, seven have died. It did not disclose any information about their ages or health conditions.

The British acknowledgment of deaths comes as several European countries have paused the use of the AstraZeneca jab over a potential link to blood clots.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA, said in a statement that “Out of the 30 reports up to and including 24 March, sadly 7 have died.”

The MHRA urged people to continue taking the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. It said it wasn’t clear if the shots are causing the clots, and that its “rigorous review into the UK reports of rare and specific types of blood clots is ongoing.”

In total, MHRA said had identified 30 cases of rare blood clot events out of 18.1 million AstraZeneca doses administered up to and including March 24. The risk associated with this type of blood clot is “very small,” it added.

“The benefits of COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca in preventing COVID-19 infection and its complications continue to outweigh any risks and the public should continue to get their vaccine when invited to do so,” said Dr. June Raine, the agency’s chief executive.

Concern over the AstraZeneca vaccine has already prompted some countries including Canada, France, Germany and the Netherlands to restrict its use to older people. The UK, which has rolled out coronavirus vaccines faster than other European nations, is particularly reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed by scientists at the University of Oxford.

MHRA’s view about the relative benefits of the vaccine is shared by the European Medicines Agency. It has said a causal link between unusual blood clots in people who have had the vaccine is “not proven, but is possible,” and that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks of side effects. The EMA is expected to announce updated advice on the issue on April 7.

The World Health Organization has also urged countries to continue using the jab.

Adam Finn, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol, said the “extreme rarity” of the blood-clotting events in the context of the millions of jabs administered in the UK makes the decision facing people very straightforward.

“Receiving the vaccine is by far the safest choice in terms of minimizing individual risk of serious illness or death,” he said.

A more detailed look at the MHRA’s findings shows that of the 30 cases, 22 related to cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which stops blood draining from the brain properly, and eight were connected with other thrombosis events with low platelets.

It said there were no reports of any blood-clotting events around the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which has also been widely rolled out in the UK.

The Netherlands on Friday halted vaccinations with the AstraZeneca jab for people under the age of 60 after five new cases among women, one of whom died.

Germany took a similar decision earlier this week.

AstraZeneca said last month following US efficiency trials that its vaccine is 79 percent effective at preventing the disease and does not increase the risk of blood clots.

The UK has administered more than 31 million first vaccine doses, using both the Oxford-AstraZeneca and the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs. People cannot choose which one they get.

The UK in June 2020 ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and supported its development. It also ordered 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine the same year.

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