Sweden on Tuesday became the latest European country to pause use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine amid reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients.
The company and international regulators continue to say the vaccine is safe, however, and many countries elsewhere in the world are forging ahead with their vaccination campaigns.
The move by the Swedish Public Health Agency is pending an investigation by the European Medicines Agency. ”The decision is a precautionary measure,” Swedish chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, the German government said it will postpone a virtual summit on the country’s vaccination efforts until after the EMA meeting, scheduled for Thursday.
Germany, France, Italy and Spain were among countries that suspended use of the vaccine on Monday.
The German government and the country’s 16 state governors had planned to meet Wednesday for a virtual summit on the country’s slow vaccination campaign and on ways to speed it up.
AstraZeneca’s formula is one of three vaccines in use on the European continent. But the escalating concern is another setback for the European Union’s vaccination drive, which has been plagued by shortages and other hurdles and is lagging well behind the campaigns in Britain and the U.S.
The EU’s drug regulatory agency will review experts’ findings on the AstraZeneca shot and decide whether action needs to be taken.
Much of Asia has shrugged off concerns about the AstraZeneca jab, with Thailand’s prime minister receiving a shot at the start of the country’s use of the vaccine on Tuesday.
“There are people who have concerns,” Prayuth Chan-ocha said after his vaccination. “But we must believe doctors, believe in our medical professionals.”
Thailand initially was the first country outside Europe to temporarily suspend using the AstraZeneca vaccine. But Thailand’s health authorities later decided to go ahead with it, with Prayuth and members of his Cabinet receiving the first shots.
Indonesia suspended use of the vaccine on Monday, saying it was waiting for a full report from the World Health Organization regarding possible side effects.
AstraZeneca has developed a manufacturing base in Asia, and the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has been contracted by the company to produce a billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations. Hundreds of millions more are to be manufactured this year in Australia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
AstraZeneca has said there have been 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the 27-country EU and Britain. The drugmaker said there is no evidence the vaccine carries an increased risk of clots.
In fact, it said the incidence of clots is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar to that of other licensed COVID-19 vaccines.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said there was no evidence so far that the vaccine causes blood clots.
“Blood clots happen, they happen in Australia fairly commonly,” he said. “But, from my perspective, I do not see that there is any specific link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots, and I’m not alone in that opinion.”