AstraZeneca vaccine’s benefits outweigh risks: WHO

The world’s health organization has recommended the vaccinations continue as its advisory committee is still assessing concerned data

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just released the statement this late evening, informing its stance on the use of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, saying the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks and the organisation recommends that the vaccinations continue.

The statement comes amid growing concerns about potential side-effects of the vaccine after there have been reports of blood clots development in some vaccine recipients in Europe. These have prompted a number of countries to take a decision to suspend their vaccination plans as a precautionary measure; be they Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, Iceland, Germany, France Italy and Spain, according to WHO.

Thailand was earlier on the list, but just decided to go ahead with the vaccination administration plan using the AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday with a landmark inoculation of Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha and some of his Cabinet members.

Up to 61 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine is a major stake of the country’s vaccines to be used to help cover the populations in need, around 31.5 out of 50 millions. Children and pregnant women are excluded.

WHO said it is in regular contact with the European Medicines Agency and regulators around the world for the latest information on COVID-19 vaccine safety.

The organisation just met with the EMA yesterday to address the issue, but there have been no reports of outcomes so far.

The organisation said its global advisory committee on vaccine safety is carefully assessing “the latest available safety data for the AstraZeneca vaccine”. Once that review is completed, the organisation will immediately communicate the findings to the public, it said in the statement.

WHO said while some countries in the EU have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precautionary measures, others in the same bloc have decided to continue using it.

The fact is vaccination against COVID-19 will not reduce illness or deaths from other causes, and blood clotting or thromboembolic events are known to occur frequently, the world’s health organization notes, citing  blood clotting in deep veins of the leg or arm is the third most common cardiovascular disease globally. 

“In extensive vaccination campaigns, it is routine for countries to signal potential adverse events following immunization. This does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to vaccination itself, but it is good practice to investigate them. It also shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place,” the world’s health organization notes. 

“…At this time, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue,” states WHO.

PM Gen Prayut was inoculated with the AstraZeneca vaccine in a landmark vaccination yesterday, citing the concerned agencies were confirmed by top health organisations including WHO.
Credit: Government House

Thailand’s outweighing benefits

The Department of Disease Control of Thailand, meanwhile, has issued a joint statement with AstraZeneca (Thailand), assuring outweighing benefits of the vaccine.

The agency and company said the AstraZeneca vaccine has passed critical procedures required for approval of Covid-19 vaccines from healthcare regulatory authorities in UK and EU, WHO and in over 70 countries.

They cited similarly that adverse events from vaccinations can happen any time and any where, with most of them being non-severe. 

In Thailand, blood clots occur at a very low rate in comparison to western countries, or 3 times lower than in Europe and United States. Based on the global adverse-event reports that AstraZeneca has received in February and early March, there have been 29 events of blood clots in deep veins. The rate ratio is only 0.03 time of 916 people expected to occur naturally in a general population of the same size, the two bodies noted in the statement.

Worldwide, over 300 million people have been vaccinated, with more than 6 million people being in Asia. Among the vaccines used, 34 million doses are of AstraZeneca.

So far, there have been no evidence links of the AstraZeneca vaccine to severe adverse events or death, the two bodies noted.

“Suspensions in a number of countries including Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, Italy and Indonesia are normal procedures to be taken, while waiting for evidence that proves the role of vaccination in the incidents.

“As of today, WHO and the EMA have both approved for the vaccinations to be continued as the benefits still outweigh the risks,” the two bodies cited in the statement which came one day earlier than the WHO’s.