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No change to AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine recommendations in Ireland after clot reports abroad, NIAC says

Denmark, Norway and Iceland paused the use of the vaccine as a precaution after isolated reports of recipients developing blood clots.

Image: Shutterstock/Studio Peace

Updated Mar 12th 2021, 3:34 PM

THE NATIONAL IMMUNISATION Advisory Committee (NIAC) has said no change is currently warranted in relation to recommendations around the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. 

This follows recent reports of other EU member states temporarily suspending the use of this vaccine as a precautionary move based on reports of clotting events in people who received the vaccine.

The World Health Organization has said there is no reason to stop using AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after these reports.

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

In Ireland, the AstraZeneca vaccine is currently used on people aged under 70 years of age, where possible.

“Where practicable and timely”, NIAC has advised that those aged 70 and older should be given mRNA vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna. 

NIAC previously said clinical trials showed the mRNA vaccines were “associated with higher overall protection which supports the preference to use them in those at highest risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19″.

Yesterday evening, Professor Karina Butler, the chair of NIAC, said the committee has been looking at changing the age recommendation around the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.  

“In light of the data that’s come out from the UK particularly showing the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and how it has had impact there as well,” she said. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been administered to older people in the UK. 

The deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Ronan Glynn said yesterday: “Professor Butler has provided advice to myself but I just need to look at that advice and discuss it with the minister, so there will be updated recommendations around the use AstraZeneca coming hopefully in the next couple of days but we’re not at liberty to say more than that this evening until I’ve had a chance to discuss it with the minister [Stephen Donnelly].” 

Denmark, Norway and Iceland paused the use of the AstraZeneca jab as a precaution after isolated reports of recipients developing blood clots. 

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

A range of health authorities around the world have insisted the jab is safe, including the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the WHO. 

Professor Butler said Ireland’s Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) is aligned with the EMA in continuing to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.

WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said: “AstraZeneca is an excellent vaccine, as are the other vaccines that are being used.

“Yes, we should continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” she added, stressing though that any concerns over safety must be investigated. 

“We must always ensure that we look for any safety signals when we roll out vaccines, and we must review them,” she said. 

“But there is no indication to not use it.” 

No causal link found

The EMA said yesterday that there had been 30 cases of so-called thromboembolic events among five million people who had received the jab in Europe. 

But European countries could still keep using the vaccine, the EU’s drug regulator said. 

Harris said that while a few countries had, as a precaution, suspended the use of a specific batch of AstraZeneca vaccine distributed in Europe, based on reports of blood coagulation disorders, “a causal relationship has not been shown”. 

“Vaccination against Covid-19 doesn’t reduce deaths from any other causes,” she said. 

“As of March 9, there have been over 268 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered since the start of the pandemic. 

“No causes of death have been found to have been caused by Covid-19 vaccines to date.”

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Harris said the WHO’s advisory committee on vaccine safety, which meets at least every two weeks, systematically reviews any safety reports coming in.

“They’re currently assessing the reports on AstraZeneca,” she said. 

Crucial role in Covax 

The Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is one of only two to have been given the WHO seal of approval so far. 

The organisation has granted emergency use listing to the AstraZeneca versions being manufactured in India and South Korea. 

The only other Covid-19 vaccine with the WHO green light is that produced by Pfizer/BioNTech. 

A decision is expected this month on the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while verdicts are due at the earliest in March on China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac jabs, along with the Moderna vaccine. 

The AstraZeneca jab makes up almost all of the doses being distributed in the first wave of the Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme.

 All vaccines deployed via the facility must first be authorised by the WHO.

Some 238.2 million vaccine doses will be distributed to some 142 countries and territories by the end of May through the programme, which is aimed at boosting access to coronavirus vaccines in poorer nations. 

The facility has already shipped more than 20 million doses to 20 countries. 

Covax aims to distribute another 14.4 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to 31 more countries this week.

- Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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