Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine safety: What is the concern as Netherlands suspends use?

The Dutch government suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine over reports of blood clotting in Norway, adding its name to the list of nations including Ireland, Denmark and Iceland. The suspension in the Netherlands will last until at least March 29 and has seen some 43,000 coronavirus vaccination appointments cancelled.

What are the concerns?

The concerns over the vaccine are based on a review from Norway’s medicines agency that showed four new cases of “serious blood clotting in adults”.

There have been about 30 cases in Europe of “thromboembolic events” – or developing blood clots – after the vaccine was administered.

There were also reports that a 50-year-old man had died in Italy after developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT).

The Netherlands has followed Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Bulgaria in suspending use of the vaccine.

So is the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine safe?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said there is no indication that the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots.

WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said it was an “excellent vaccine” and there was no link between the jab and an increased risk of developing a clot.

The WHO is investigating the reports of blood clotting in Europe, as it does with any safety questions, Ms Harris said, though no link has been established.

A new statement from AstraZeneca on Monday said: “A careful review of all available safety data of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and UK with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca has shown no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country.”

On Friday, AstraZeneca said the recorded number of blood clots in vaccinated people was, in fact, lower than it would usually be in the population.

Ann Taylor, the firm’s chief medical officer, said: “Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population.”

She added: “The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases and we are going beyond the standard practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety.”

While the list of European nations suspending the vaccine is small, other nations, including the UK, Germany, Australia and Mexico, have said they are continuing their rollout.

Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said: “From what we know so far, the benefit…is far greater than the risk.”

However, in a statement, the Dutch government said it was acting out of precaution to ensure public trust in the vaccine rollout.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said: “We can’t allow any doubts about the vaccine.

“We have to make sure everything is right, so it is wise to pause for now.”

The decision will cause delays in the Dutch vaccination programme, adding to setbacks in the vaccine rollouts across Europe.

The authorities had pre-ordered 12 million doses of AstraZeneca, with nearly 300,000 jabs scheduled in the next two weeks, all of which will now be suspended.