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European nations are suspending AstraZeneca’s vaccine. Thailand just gave it a vote of confidence

March 16, 2021, 9:19 AM UTC

Thailand Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha got injected with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on national TV on Tuesday, marking the beginning of the country’s rollout of AstraZeneca’s jab even as a growing number of European countries suspend use of the vaccine over safety concerns related to blood clots.

Prayuth and other government ministers were initially scheduled to receive the vaccine last Friday but postponed the jabs amid reports that a small number of patients suffered adverse reactions after getting injected. Prayuth said that after reviewing the evidence, the government determined that AstraZeneca’s vaccine was safe and effective for Thai citizens.

“It has been verified that there is no bad reaction from the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Prayuth told reporters on Tuesday. Prayuth said his own inoculation was intended to “ensure safety and imbue confidence in the general public.”

AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is at least 62% effective in preventing COVID-19 infections, was developed in partnership with the University of Oxford and has been approved by the World Health Organization and in over 70 countries.

But Thailand’s vote of confidence in the vaccine comes as Germany, France, Italy, and a number of other European countries suspend their own rollouts of the jab.

The European nations are concerned about reports that two people in Austria and Denmark died from blood clots after receiving the vaccine. The Norway Medicines Agency, the country’s drug regulator, also published a report on Saturday saying four people experienced blood clots after getting the vaccine, but said it could not prove that the vaccines caused the clotting.

AstraZeneca issued a statement Sunday saying that its vaccine is safe.

“Around 17 million people in the EU 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, AstraZeneca’s chief medical officer, said in the statement.

Experts have agreed with AstraZeneca, and explained that suspending AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout may only work to undermine public trust in the doses.

“The decisions by France, Germany and other countries look baffling. The data we have suggests that numbers of adverse events related to blood clots are the same (and possibly, in fact, lower) in vaccinated groups compared to unvaccinated populations,” Michael Head, senior research fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton, told the U.K.’s Science Media Centre. “Halting a vaccine roll out during a pandemic has consequences. This results in delays in protecting people and the potential for increased vaccine hesitancy.”

In the U.K., where Head is based, the government announced Sunday that it would continue distributing AstraZeneca’s vaccine due to a lack of evidence tying the vaccine to blood clots.

The WHO has also advised that countries should continue to use AstraZeneca’s vaccine jabs.

“As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and stem severe disease from the virus,” Christian Lindmeier, spokesman for the WHO, told Reuters on Monday.

Prayuth got his jab on Tuesday several weeks into Thailand’s vaccine campaign, which aims to vaccinate 60% of the country’s adult population by the end of 2021. In late February, Thailand began inoculating some citizens with vaccines from the Chinese firm Sinovac. At the time, Prayuth, 66, said he would not receive Sinovac’s shot because Thai authorities had not recommended the jab for his age group.

Thailand appears to be more reliant on AstraZeneca’s shot than Sinovac’s to inoculate its 69.6 million people. Thailand has secured 2 million doses of Sinovac’s vaccine compared to 61 million doses of AstraZeneca’s shot, which combined is enough doses to vaccinate 31.5 million people. AstraZeneca’s shots in Thailand are produced locally by Siam Bioscience, a Thai pharmaceutical company that is owned by Thailand King Maha Vajiralongkorn.