UK reports 30 cases of rare blood clots after AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

Regulator insists drug is still safe with more than 18 million doses administered in Britain

A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at a coronavirus vaccination centre at the Fazl Mosque in southwest London on March 23, 2021, on the first anniversary of the first national Covid-19 lockdown.  / AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
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The UK medicines regulator identified 30 cases of rare blood clots after the use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine.

But the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said the benefits of the vaccine still far outweighed the potential risk, with more than 18 million AstraZeneca doses administered in the UK.

No blood clotting reports were received for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.

Officials said 18.1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine had been administered up to March 24.

Of these, there were "22 reports of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and eight reports of other thrombosis events with low platelets".

Some countries are restricting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine while others resumed inoculations as investigations into reports of rare and sometimes severe blood clots continue.

Germany last week stopped general use of AstraZeneca's shot in people aged under 60.

Its regulator found 31 cases of a rare type of blood clot among the nearly 2.7 million people who are vaccinated in Germany.

Prof Adam Finn from the University of Bristol, a member of the UK government’s vaccine committee, said the drug was still “by far the safest choice” for avoiding serious illness or death from Covid-19.

“The report states that these cases are being very carefully investigated to better understand whether or not they may have any causal relationship with vaccination,” he said.

“Nevertheless, the extreme rarity of these events in the context of the many millions of vaccine doses that have been administered means that the risk-benefit decision facing people who are invited to receive Covid-19 vaccines is very straightforward: receiving the vaccine is by far the safest choice in terms of minimising individual risk of serious illness or death.”

The World Health Organisation and the EU's health watchdog deemed the AstraZeneca vaccine safe.

The UK regulator said the most common side effect of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines was pain at the site of injection and flu-like illness.

“Generally, these happen shortly after the vaccination and are not associated with more serious or lasting illness,” it said.

Meanwhile, US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said the country may not need to use the AstraZeneca vaccine even if it gains approval.

“That's still up in the air. My general feeling is that given the contractual relationships that we have with a number of companies, that we have enough vaccine to fulfil all of our needs without invoking AstraZeneca,” he said.