Thailand, Bulgaria, and Italy on Friday joined six European nations in suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine over blood clot fears, despite a range of health authorities around the world insisting it was safe.
The European Medicines Agency said severe allergies should be added to the possible side effects of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine after likely links were found to a number of cases in Britain.
The Amsterdam-based drug regulator of the EU said it had “recommended an update to the product information to include anaphylaxis and hypersensitivity (allergic reactions) as side effects.”
For his part, Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, an adviser for Thailand’s COVID-19 vaccine committee, said: “Vaccine injection for Thais must be safe, we do not have to be in a hurry.”
But the World Health Organization said there was no reason to stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.
“Yes, we should continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters, adding: “There is no indication to not use it.”
Australia, Mexico, and the Philippines said they would continue their rollouts as they had found no reason to alter course.
“The Department of Health and the Food and Drug Administration are aware that a few countries in the European Union have recently paused their inoculation campaign with the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca following reports of blood clots in people who received the vaccine,” said the DOH in a statement issued.
“This has been decided as a precautionary measure, while they conduct a full investigation to determine causality between the vaccination and the reported adverse events following immunization. Moreover, the European Medicine Authority (EMA) has also emphasized that there is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine,” the DOH added.
The DOH also noted that the EMA safety committee said the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks and that the vaccine can continue to be administered while the cases involving bl-ood clots are being investigated.
Meanwhile, some 1,000 health workers have reported minor side effects after inoculations against COVID-19, the DOH said, as the government races to vaccinate more health and essential workers.
The Philippines has vaccinated 114,615 health workers as of March 10, and “a total of 978 suspected adverse events” have been reported after immunization, said Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire.
Among the suspected adverse events, 892 were from the CoronaVac vaccine made by China’s Sinovac. Of the 892, only 20 were considered adverse events following immunization (AEFIs).
For AstraZeneca, 85 recipients reported minor adverse events following immunization, and only one reported a serious side effect, Vergeire said.
Among the common mild effects reported were muscle pain, pain in the injection site, body pains, fever and rashes, she said.
Vergeire added that some of the patients who experienced these were given medicine and immediately recovered and went home. All were observed for 15 or 30 minutes after vaccination for possible side effects.
“These are usual side effects and should not be a cause of fear,” Vergeire said in Filipino, adding that these are the same side effects experienced by children who are vaccinated.
Some patients, on the other hand, had trouble breathing, while others experienced chest pains.
“These are considered serious and we are studying the cause,” Vergeire said.
Vergeire said the head of the National Adverse Events Following Immunization Committee or NAEFIC believes that some of the reported cases can be attributed to anxiety.
“You know how some Filipinos are scared of being vaccinated. Maybe they are also scared of having side effects or they are scared of the needle,” she said.
The World Health Organization defines AEFI as “any untoward medical occurrence which follows immunization and which does not necessarily have a causal relationship with the usage of the vaccine.”
In the WHO’s Global Manual on Surveillance of Adverse Events Following Immunization, there are different categorizations of AEFI.
This includes vaccine product-related reaction, vaccine quality defect, immunization error, immunization anxiety, and coincidental events.
The Philippines has received 600,000 Sinovac doses as a donation from China. It also received 525,600 AstraZeneca doses from the vaccine-sharing initiative COVAX Facility.
The DOH on Friday assured the public that the government has enough time to administer the second dose of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines before they expire in May.
Vergeire denied reports that the government was rushing to administer the AstraZeneca vaccines because they are about to expire.
The country earlier received 525,600 doses of AstraZeneca vaccines and 600,000 doses from Sinovac.
She said the longest expiry date for COVID-19 vaccines for now is six months because the manufacturers know that the situation is evolving and that they may change or correct the vaccines that they are allowing countries to use.
“The ones that arrived here expire by the end of May. But our strategies are in place because the second dose can be given from four to 12 weeks. So it is within our schedule and the doses can be used for vaccination,” she said.
Vergeire said the only reason they are trying to hasten the vaccination process is to ensure that health workers are vaccinated.
The government aims to inoculate 70 million people to achieve herd immunity. With AFP
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