Ireland suspended use of the Covid-19 vaccine by Oxford-AstraZeneca on Sunday, citing reports of unusual blood clotting problems among people who recently received the shots in Norway.
The decision followed a new advisory from Norway on Saturday that four people given the AstraZeneca vaccine had experienced blood clotting issues and all had low platelet counts. Leading public health agencies, including the World Health Organization, point out that millions of people have received the vaccine without experiencing such blood clotting issues, and that experts have not found a causative link between any of the vaccines and the conditions.
Ireland’s health minister, Stephen Donnelly, said on Twitter that the suspension was a “precautionary step.”
The decision to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine was based on new information from Norway that emerged late last night. This is a precautionary step. The National Immunisation Advisory Comm meets again this morning and we’ll provide an update after that
— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) March 14, 2021
Regulators like the European Medicines Agency are investigating whether there is evidence of any link.
AstraZeneca defended its vaccine on Sunday, saying that the company is continually monitoring its safety.
“Around 17 million people in the E.U. and U.K. 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,” Ann Taylor, the company’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.
Prof. Karina Butler, the chairwoman of Ireland’s immunization advisory committee, said the panel’s recommendation was made while agencies were investigating. “We will continue to monitor the situation, and if we can be satisfied that these events are coincidental and not caused by this vaccine, we will reassess the situation.”
No such cases have been reported to Ireland’s medicine regulators, with over 117,000 doses of the vaccine administered in the country. Of the newest reports in Norway, one patient died from an unexpected brain hemorrhage, and the three others with severe cases of blood clots or brain hemorrhages were being treated in a hospital, according to the Norwegian Medicines Agency.
That agency issued an advisory for people under age 50 who had received the AstraZeneca vaccine in the past two weeks, and who feel increasingly unwell with several large blue patches on their skin more than three days after vaccination, to consult doctors or other medical advice as soon as possible.
Ireland joined other European countries in halting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the past week as a precaution because of concerns over the risk of blood clots. Thailand and the Democratic Republic of Congo have also delayed their rollouts of the vaccine in recent days. On Sunday, Italy’s northern region of Piedmont said it would temporarily stop administering the AstraZeneca vaccine, a day after a teacher there died after receiving the shot.
The European Medicines Agency, which is investigating the relationship, said Wednesday that 30 cases of obstructive blood clots had been reported in the nearly five million people who received the shot — a rate no higher than that seen in the general population — and that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed the risks. AstraZeneca has said that its safety data of more than 10 million records does not show evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis.
In its statement, AstraZeneca also said that as of March 8, the company was aware of 15 reports of deep-vein thrombosis and 22 of pulmonary embolism among those who had received the vaccine across the European Union and Britain.
“This is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed Covid vaccines,” the company said.