AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine gets all-clear from EU health agency following blood clot uproar

The European Union’s drug regulator said AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine is safe to use, giving the bloc an opportunity to try to turn around its lagging inoculation campaign after months of disarray.

The European Medicines Agency said Thursday that the vaccine is “safe and effective,” and the benefits outweigh risks. Still, they said they can’t completely rule out a link between the vaccine and blood clots, and will investigate further.

Several of Europe’s largest countries suspended use of Astra shots this month over reports of blood clotting, going against advice from the EMA and the World Health Organization that the benefits outweighed the risks. The uncertainty complicated the EU’s struggling vaccination campaign since the Astra shot accounts for about a fifth of its supply.

While governments said they were ready to resume once they got positive EMA guidance, the question remains if the suspensions did irreparable damage to the reputation of the vaccine and if people will get the shots in sufficient numbers to curb the spread of the virus. Thousands of appointments have been canceled because of concern about health risks.

Earlier on Thursday, the U.K.’s drugs regulator weighed in on Astra’s shot, saying the benefits continue to outweigh the risks and people “should still go and get their Covid-19 vaccine when asked to do so.”

The crisis over vaccine side effects is just one of many playing out in the effort to inoculate populations. The EU has already been in a long-running battle with AstraZeneca over the pace of deliveries, and this week it ramped up tensions with the U.K. by threatening to restrict vaccine exports to its former member.

The EU has committed to immunizing 70% of adults by the end of September but has suffered from supply issues. It’s administered 12 doses per 100 people, less than a third of the U.K., according to Bloomberg’s Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker.

The Astra vaccine is one of four approved in the EU. The bloc expects 360 million deliveries from all providers in the second quarter, almost four times as many as this quarter.

The blood’s propensity to clot is highly regulated within the human body, but some medicines such as hormonal birth control pills can disrupt the process.

The EMA reviewed case reports from Germany and Norway, among others, to determine whether the problems were caused by the vaccine or whether the timing was a coincidence. They also compared the patients’ medical profiles, seeking similarities that may point to certain people being at higher risk of clots.

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