Ireland expected to resume paused AstraZeneca vaccine delivery

Eleven states in Europe, including Ireland,  France and Germany have suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine; a precautionary pause following reports of post-vaccine blood clots in Norway and Germany.

The National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), who advise the Irish Health Service Executive (HSE) regarding vaccines, received a safety alert last Saturday, 13 March 2021 from the Norwegian Medicines Agency. 

The alert reported 4 cases of serious, rare blood clotting events and complications involving low platelet count in younger adults following an AstraZeneca COVID-19 jab. 

The Norwegian Medicine Agency released an appeal on the 13, March asking people who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the last 14 days and “feel increasingly unwell with several large blue patches (skin haemorrhages) more than three days after vaccination,” to seek help at an out-of-hours medical practice or their own doctor as soon as possible.

Norway has also currently suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Geir Bukholm, Director of the Division of Infection Control and Environmental Health at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) reports on the NIPH website, 

“The NIPH has put the AstraZeneca vaccine on hold in the coronavirus immunisation programme. Now it is the Norwegian Medicines Agency’s role to follow up on these suspected side effects and take the necessary measures in this serious situation,”. 

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A statement from the HSE emphasised no direct conclusion has been drawn linking the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to these cases. However, the NIAC advised a precautionary pause on the vaccine roll out, until the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has conducted a thorough investigation. 

The EMA approved the AstraZeneca vaccine on 29 January 2021, for people of all ages, but are now heavily  investigating this product’s potential for these severe side-effects or complications.

In Ireland More than 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine have been administered so far, mainly to those most exposed to the virus: frontline healthcare workers. The HSE reports a significant reduction in COVID-19 cases in this group, post-vaccine.

Following a statement during an online press conference from Amsterdam-based EMA chief Emer Cooke, there have been rising tides of optimism surrounding the continued rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. Ms Cooke informed the online press,

“We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19 with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death outweigh the risk of these side effects,”

“At present there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions. They have not come up in the clinical trials and they are not listed as known or expected side effects,” Cooke emphasised.

“This vaccine’s clinical trials had shown “very small numbers of blood clot developments”, she postulated.

The EMA are due to release the investigation’s results, tomorrow, Thursday 18 March. 

Ireland’s NIAC will also have to consider the outcome of this investigation, before chief medical officer, Dr Tony Holohan who will in turn advise Stephen Donnelly, Minister for Health, how to proceed with the vaccine stock.

It could take several days to resume the vaccine roll out in Ireland due to cancelled appointments and blocked shipment of doses to vaccine centres. Hopefully, the situation will become more transparent for Ireland and vaccine-derived immunity, as soon as the EMA reveal their much awaited findings.

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Emma Monaghan

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