India reviews AstraZeneca side effects over blood clot fears

India will carry out a deeper review of post-vaccination side effects from the AstraZeneca shot next week although no cases of blood clots have been reported so far, an official told AFP Saturday.

New Delhi decided to conduct the review after several countries suspended rollout over blood clot fears even as the World Health Organization said there was no reason to stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 jab.

Denmark, Norway, and Iceland paused the use of the drug maker’s shot as a precaution after isolated reports of recipients developing blood clots.

Italy and Austria have banned the use of jabs from separate batches of AstraZeneca, and Thailand and Bulgaria said this week they would delay the rollout.

“We are looking at all the adverse events, particularly serious adverse events like deaths and hospitalization. We will come back if we find anything of concern,” N.K. Arora, a member of India’s national task force on COVID-19, told AFP.

India has given at least 28 million shots in its vast vaccination program, most of them AstraZeneca’s which are produced at the Serum Institute of India.

New Delhi has also gifted and allowed exports of millions of these jabs to around 70 countries over the last few weeks as a part of its vaccine diplomacy.

Arora said there was “no immediate issue of concern as number of adverse events (in India) is very, very low. We are relooking at (adverse events that were reported) to see if there was any issue of blood clotting.”

“As of yesterday there were 59 or 60 deaths, and they were all coincidental,” the doctor said, adding hospitalization cases were being re-examined.

“In fact there is a real effort from our side that once complete investigation is done, to put its results in public domain, on the ministry of health website,” Arora added.

India has been using AstraZeneca and indigenous vaccine giant Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin in its rapidly expanding vaccination drive at home. 

At least two million people were vaccinated on Friday alone, and this ramp up comes at a time when COVID-19 cases are rising across different Indian states after weeks of decline.

The WHO, which said its vaccines advisory committee was examining the safety data coming in, stressed that no causal link has been established between the AstraZeneca vaccine and clotting.

“Yes, we should continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said, stressing that any concerns over safety must be investigated. 

The Britain-based AstraZeneca insisted its jab was safe, adding there is “no evidence” of higher blood clot risks. 

AstraZeneca on Saturday announced a fresh shortfall in planned vaccine shipments to the European Union, citing production problems and export restrictions.

“AstraZeneca is disappointed to announce a shortfall in planned COVID-19 vaccine shipments to the European Union (EU) despite working tirelessly to accelerate supply,” it said in a statement.

The company had previously warned it was facing shortfalls from its European supply chain due to “lower-than-expected output from the production process.” 

It was hoping to compensate for part of the shortfall by sourcing vaccines from its global network, with half of the EU’s supply in the second quarter and 10 million doses in the first quarter due to come from its international supply chain. 

“Unfortunately, export restrictions will reduce deliveries in the first quarter, and are likely to affect deliveries in the second quarter,” it added. 

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