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Is Greece Making a Mistake in Using AstraZeneca Vaccine?

Credit: Greek Reporter

The AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine campaign has been discontinued in a slew of countries across Europe, including Germany, Italy, France, Ireland, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Spain and several other countries after reports of thrombosis and deaths in vaccinated individuals.

The EU’s stated ambition of inoculating 70 percent of the residents of its member nations by September of this year is in danger after the uproar over the reported cases of thrombosis and deaths that may be linked to the AstraZeneca product.

EMA to decide on AstraZeneca safety Thursday

The European Medicines Agency is now studying any possible link to the blood clotting incidents and  deaths that occurred in Austria, Denmark and Norway, with their decision expected to be rendered on Thursday, March 18.

Meanwhile, the number of intubations is rising steadily in Greece and the rate of positive cases is hovering around a worrying 12.3% after staying steady at approximately 5% for many weeks.

Currently, Greece has 605 patients who are undergoing the invasive treatment of intubation, during which a ventilator takes over a person’t breathing. This represents 41 more than the total of intubated patients on Monday.

Greece’s health system overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients

In addition, the Greek national health system became so overwhelmed with coronavirus patients that the government was forced to reach out to two of Athens’ private hospitals last week, enlisting them as coronavirus referral facilities.

Despite this, Greece’s National Vaccination Committee officially recommended yesterday that AstraZeneca’s coronavirus shot be distributed in Greece according to schedule on Tuesday.

The Committee advised that the vaccine be given out as planned despite concerns about potential links between the inoculation and blood clots after a number of people who had received the vaccine later suffered from thrombosis.

Several incidents of thrombosis, or the formation of blood clots, have been reported in Austria and Denmark, and two deaths have occurred in patients there who had just received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Greek National Vaccination Committee forges ahead with AstraZeneca

In an announcement on Tuesday, Greece’s National Vaccination Committee cited the recommendation of both the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency as fundamental in their decision, stating:

“The committee examined that data available to date and unanimously judged that there is no reason to change its recommendation…The Committee underlined that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the continuation of vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

While Germany pauses its rollout of AstraZeneca, the country has entered its third wave of infections due to the presence of the British variant of the virus.

Currently, the UK is continuing its inoculation program with the Oxford University/AstraZeneca product, and more than 11 million doses have been administered there as of this week.

Greek man loses consciousness after inoculation

In Greece, at least one individual who received the AstraZeneca product lost consciousness for a total of two minutes, falling to the floor and sustaining injuries to his head and face. The otherwise healthy 63-year-old professor told Greek Reporter that he has undergone a full battery of tests, including the wearing of a Holter monitor, after the incident and no medical problems were found.

However, the professor says that he had just exited his car before the incident and expressed dismay over the fact that the loss of consciousness could have taken place while he had been driving.

Some experts maintain that there is no reason that the AstraZeneca shot should be linked to such incidents. Michael Head, senior research fellow in Global Health at the University of Southampton, told CNN that “At the minute, I’m just not seeing any reason at all why any country would pause the AstraZeneca vaccine. It doesn’t really make much sense to me.”

“These vaccines are to protect against a pandemic virus. There is an urgency to the rollout,” he added.

“There is an urgency to the rollout”

“So pausing a vaccine campaign without a very good reason at this point in time just seems a bad move.”

“From what we’ve seen from the millions of doses of AstraZeneca, serious side effects are quite literally the proverbial one in a million,” he added.

After first being approved for emergency use by the EMA in late January, the AstraZeneca product has been the source of confusion and rancor within the EU as promised number of doses were not delivered as stipulated in contracts, according to some officials of the EU member states.

Other officials have publicly cast doubt on how well it works in those over 64, while those concerns were later discounted.

“The AstraZeneca candidate vaccine does seem to have been a bit of a political football, for reasons I don’t really understand,” Head said. “It’s all been a bit unedifying to watch from a scientific point of view.

“In terms of the science behind the vaccine, it’s safe, it’s effective, it’s a very good vaccine.”

French Prime Minister Jean Castex told the press that he plans to be inoculated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot just as soon as his government lifts its temporary suspension on the use of the vaccine.

“Vaccination is the exit door from this crisis,” he said in an interview with a French TV station Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

WHO and EMA urge countries to continue with AstraZeneca vaccine

The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency, the EU’s drug regulator, urged countries to continue to give out the shot, as both bodies conduct extensive trials of the vaccine and investigate potential risks.

They argue that the vaccine, which is among the cheapest on the market and is widely used across Europe, is integral in the campaign to inoculate as many people as possible and to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“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, a WHO spokesman, stated Sunday.

UK pleased with AstraZeneca; number of infections falling

UK health authorities are reporting that the rapid speed of the rollout there has indeed slowed the rate of infections and hospitalizations.

The EMA and World Health Organization are continuing to call for the AstraZeneca product to remain in use, saying that the incidences of thrombosis and fatalities are not greater than would be expected in the general population.

Meanwhile, concern about the safety of the shot is rising amongst those who have already received the vaccine.

WHO to meet Thursday to discuss AstraZeneca vaccine

WHO officials maintain that there is no evidence of a link with blood clotting with the use of the AstraZeneca product, adding that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks, as Europe is in the paroxysms of a third wave of the coronavirus.

Germany administered a total of 1.7 million AstraZeneca inoculations before reporting that there were just seven cases of blood clotting. However, one of those incidences involved  a rarer type of thrombosis called cerebral vein thrombosis, a blood clot on the cerebral vein in the brain, according to Dirk Brockmann, an epidemiologist at the Robert Koch Institut.

In Norway, a different scenario is unfolding, with three hospitalized patients suffering from what doctors there call a “rare disease picture,” with the individuals having an unusual combination of low platelet counts, blood clots and bleeding.

Such conditions have not been noted in other people who had received the other inoculations that are currently on the market, according to the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

In Holland, officials have recorded ten different reports of blood clotting.

The International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH), responding last week to the widespread unrest over the AstraZeneca product, recommended that all eligible adults continue to receive their vaccinations.

Benefits outweigh complications: ISTH

The Society said in a statement “The small number of reported thrombotic events relative to the millions of administered COVID-19 vaccinations does not suggest a direct link.

“Based on all available data, the ISTH believes that the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination strongly outweigh any potential complications even for patients with a history of blood clots or for those taking blood thinning medications.”

Jon Gibbins, the director of the Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Research at the University of Reading agreed with the ISTH.

“The numbers involved are tiny, and also probably no more than you would expect in a population anyway,” he told CNN.

“Causality not demonstrated”

Thrombosis occurs in 1-2 individuals out of every 1,000 people, according to Gibbons, who added that the risk of such events increases with a person’s age and whatever underlying conditions they may be suffering from.

“When you then start immunizing millions of people, it’s inevitable this is going to happen every now and again,” Gibbons said. “But it doesn’t demonstrate causality, it doesn’t demonstrate that the vaccine is actually responsible.”

However, Gibbons admitted that the cerebral clotting cases in Germany were unusual. “Cranial Sinus Vein Thrombosis (CVST) is a rare type of thrombosis affecting five in one million patients,” he stated to reporters, before qualifying that remark by saying that the individual circumstances in those cases are still unclear at present.

Paul Hunter, a medical professor at the UK’s University of East Anglia, agreed that the incidents must be investigated, but he believes that the risk of dying from Covid-19 was substantially higher than from CVST events.

For its part, AstraZeneca emphasized the safety of its inoculation on Sunday, stating to the press that a careful review of the 17 million individuals who have received the inoculation in the EU and Britain revealed that there was “no evidence” of a link with blood clotting.

The company stated that out of those many millions of people, there have been 15 total instances of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and 22 incidences of pulmonary embolism reported after vaccinations.

This, it stated, is less than the number that would naturally occur in so many millions of people.

Gibbons stated “The big picture lesson is that the vaccines are providing an excellent level of protection.”

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