Brussels has encouraged EU member states to act on a new European Medicines Agency opinion that the benefits of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine outweigh the risks of blood clots in all adult age groups.
The European commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakides, emphasised the vaccine’s importance as part of the EU’s strategy despite months of controversy following the latest conclusions from the EMA.
In reference to member states who have resumed use of the vaccine in recent days following the discovery of blood clots as a very rare side effect, Kyriakides said she welcomed the fact that they had reflectedon the latest evidence.
She has been lobbying capitals to take a coordinated position on the use of the vaccine to rebuild public confidence. Last week, however, Denmark became the first EU member state to abandon the jab.
“It is clear, the overall benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 outweigh the risks of very rare and unusual side effects,” Kyriakides said in a statement. “The AstraZeneca vaccine is an important part of our vaccines portfolio. It is an effective vaccine that protects from severe disease and death, in the EU and globally.
“The basis for safe vaccination campaigns and the EU vaccines strategy is pharmacovigilance. The basis for successful vaccination campaigns is citizens’ trust. Trust requires science, clarity and coherence. Let’s ensure that we provide this to our citizens.”
Following a request by the commission for further investigation of the vaccine’s risk profile, the EMA said on Friday that its benefits outweighed the risks for all ages, and that the benefits increased with age and the level of infection.
The EMA declined to update the number of cases of blood clots linked to low platelets in people given the jab, saying it wanted to step away from a regular count.
Instead it has published a series of graphs demonstrating the risk of hospitalisation, intensive care admission or death from Covid against the risk of blood clots for different age groups in low, medium and high infection rate settings.
In the youngest age groups – 20-29 and 30-39 – where infection rates are low, the risks of blood clots is higher than the risk of intensive care and death. But those people are still at higher risk of hospital admission.
“For all age group categories, benefits occur in some scenarios,” said Dr Peter Arlett, the EMA’s head of pharmacovigilance. He stressed that the “favourable effects of vaccination compared with the very rare effects of blood clots increase with age and infection rate”.
It would be up to member states to decide whether to introduce age restrictions on the use of the vaccine. The UK has opted to allow anyone under the age of 30 to choose to have an alternative to the AstraZeneca jab.
The EMA does not yet have enough data on the gender of those suffering blood clots with low platelets, officials said. That is still being collected in some countries.