WHO renews support for AstraZeneca COVID vaccine

The UN health agency aligns with the EU regulator saying the benefits of the jab outweigh the risks.

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine [File: Massimo Pinca/Reuters]

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to keep using the AstraZeneca vaccine, stressing once again that the jab’s benefits outweigh the risks.

“COVID-19 is a deadly disease and the AstraZeneca vaccine can prevent it,” the UN agency’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters on Friday during an online press briefing.

His comments came after the WHO’s vaccine safety panel virtually met on Tuesday and Friday to review all the available data to respond to concerns over possible side effects of the AstraZeneca jab.

The panel’s findings aligned with the European Medical Agency (EMA) which came on Thursday to a “solid scientific conclusion” reiterating that the vaccine was “safe and effective” and that it did not point to an overall increase in clotting conditions.

Both the EMA and the WHO investigations came after several countries halted the use of the Anglo-Swedish vaccine due to limited reports of blood clots cases among some of its recipients.

Following the EMA’s announcement, several countries, including Germany, Italy and Spain, resumed the use of the scrutinised jab. France also restarted the vaccination campaign with AstraZeneca shots but recommended the use of the jab only for people older than 55.

In the neighbouring United Kingdom, a former European Union member, Prime Minister Boris Johnson received his first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.

“It was very good and very quick,” he said after receiving the jab at a London hospital. “I cannot recommend it too highly.”

Scandinavian countries, such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden decided to continue to pause the use of the vaccine pending further analysis.

More than a dozen countries’ decisions to temporarily suspend the vaccine’s rollout dealt another blow to the EU’s sluggish inoculation drive.

AstraZeneca said last week it aimed to deliver to the EU 100 million doses of its vaccine by the end of June, instead of 300 million envisaged under the EU contract, citing production problems and export restrictions.

There are also concerns that the short suspension of the AstraZeneca shot could undermine people’s vaccine confidence at a time when infections in Europe are increasing for their fourth consecutive week.

“Of course there are going to be concerns,” Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser, said on Friday. But “hopefully the population globally will have greater confidence that these vaccines are being properly scrutinised”.

Source: Al Jazeera