India sticks to AstraZeneca vaccine ‘with full vigour’

Government expert says India’s health ministry is aware of potential blood clot issue but he had ‘no concern at all’.

A nurse displays a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine at a medical centre in Mumbai [File: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters]

India is not worried about some European Union countries suspending use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine and will continue to roll out the shot in its huge immunisation programme “with full vigour”, a senior official said.

The AstraZeneca shots are produced by India’s Serum Institute and known in the country as Covishield. The vaccine accounts for most of the 35 million coronavirus jabs administered in the country so far.

But the European nations, including France, Spain and Germany, have suspended the vaccine’s use because of worries it causes blood clots.

This is despite the World Health Organization saying that the vaccine is safe and the EU’s medicines regulator is “firmly convinced” that the benefits outweigh the risks of side-effects.

Vinod K Paul, a member of the Indian government’s advisory body, NITI Aayog, said on Wednesday that Indian authorities were reviewing data but that there was nothing to suggest a “causal relationship” between the vaccine and blood clots.

“(I) again assure you that we have no signal of concern in this regard and therefore clearly, our programme (with the vaccine)… will go on with full vigour,” Paul told reporters.

India was “watching the information being made available from other sources, but today there is no concern at all”, he said.

The Serum Institute – the world’s largest vaccine producer – has already supplied tens of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to dozens of mostly poorer countries around the world.

‘Stop the second peak’

Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday ordered ramping up surveillance and testing to stop an emerging second peak of coronavirus infections.

During a virtual conference with leaders of Indian states, Modi warned that the country was at risk of a nationwide outbreak if authorities did not curb the localised surges.

“If we don’t stop this increasing pandemic right now, then we can face a nationwide outbreak situation. We will have to immediately stop the second peak of coronavirus cases that is now forming. And to do so, we need to take quick and decisive steps,” he said.

India reported 35,871 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the highest in more than three months, with the worst-affected state of Maharashtra alone accounting for 65 percent of that.

Total infections have now risen to 11.47 million, the highest after the United States and Brazil. Deaths rose by 172 to 159,216, data from the health ministry showed.

Source: News Agencies