AstraZeneca vaccine comes under further pressure in EU, UK

While the EMA says ‘possible link’ found between the jab and ‘unusual’ blood clots, the UK offers young people alternative shot due to risks.

Video Transcript

JONAH HULL: The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine under uncomfortable scrutiny. Medicines regulators in the UK and the EU have judged that its benefits outweigh any possible risks, but they haven't ruled out a causal link between the vaccine and rare blood clot conditions in a tiny number of recipients.

JUNE RAINE: Based on the current evidence, the benefits of the COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca against COVID-19 and its associated risks-- hospitalization and death-- continues to outweigh the risks for the vast majority of people. Our review has reinforced that the risk of this rare suspected side effect remains extremely small.

JONAH HULL: In Amsterdam, the European Medicines Agency said there was insufficient data to isolate risk factors like age and gender, and that blood clotting should be listed as a possible side effect of the jab.

EMER COOKE: This case also shows us that our pharmacovigilance system is working. These very rare and unusual events have been picked up, identified, analyzed, and have allowed us to come to science-based recommendations to allow the safe and effective use of this vaccine.

JONAH HULL: Investigations into the AstraZeneca vaccine were triggered after rare cases of blood clotting in the UK and Europe. Out of 20 million doses of the vaccine given in Britain, 79 cases of clotting were reported with 19 deaths, resulting in a minute percentage chance of complications affecting four in every million people vaccinated. The UK regulator went a step further than its European counterpart, announcing that adults under 30 could be offered an alternative vaccine if one is available at the time, and if they are currently healthy and not at higher risk from COVID-19.

In reaching their conclusions, the regulators have had to weigh up the risks for older people and those at greater danger from COVID-19. Well, the minute risk attached to the vaccine is one worth taking. But for fit, healthy, younger people less vulnerable to the virus, those odds are more finely balanced. So in these age groups, the UK regulator is proceeding with more caution.

It's not a clean slate for the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine already blighted by political disputes and manufacturing delays. Question marks over possible side effects could further dent its credibility, even if the regulator's verdict is that it's broadly safe. Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera, London.