The drug regulator the European Medicines Agency ruled on Thursday that the AstraZeneca vaccine is indeed safe for use, despite growing concern around the bloc that it was the cause of thrombosis and deaths around Europe.
The finding will doubtless come as a relief to dozens of European countries which are heavily reliant on the vaccine as a way to stem the tide of advancing waves of the coronavirus. Italy, Spain and Grece, among other nations, are undergoing severe lockdowns as a third and fourth wave of the pandemic sweep across the land.
More than a dozen countries had placed a pause on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine product after reports of thrombosis and deaths occurred in Austria, Holland, Denmark and Norway.
Germany, France, other nations banned use until new EMA ruling issued
Germany and France were among the larger nations of the EU to ban the use of the vaccine product until the ruling was issued today.
On Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis had stated to interviewers from CNN that Greece would continue with the vaccination program as scheduled, despite the worries that had come to light, because the EMA had previously ruled that it was indeed safe to use.
Dozens of reports had surfaced in the last several weeks, however — including one from Greece – of disturbing incidents that had appeared to be linked to the recent reception of the Astra Zeneca vaccine.
Greece’s health system overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients
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.
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.
“Benefits of AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the costs”
Addressing the refusal of Greek authorities to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, the Greek leader replied in a CNN interview on Wednesday “the EMA has been very, very clear in telling us that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine clearly outweigh the potential costs. And that is why Greece was one of the countries that went against the trend and we are currently continuing our vaccination program.”
Adding that he expects the EMA to make a decision on the AstraZeneca vaccine tomorrow, Mitsotakis said that if the program must be suspended, then “of course we will suspend it immediately.”
But what he didn’t understand, he said, was that “all the European countries have trusted the EMA so far and I don’t see why decisions have to be taken at the level of individual states. We have aligned ourselves fully with EMA recommendations, and until further notice we will continue with our AstraZeneca vaccination campaign.”
“Everyone is tired of dealing with Covid”
Asked how Greece is dealing with the fatigue that has set in around the world after suffering a year of pandemic lockdowns and restrictions, Mitsotakis said “We have to be honest, everyone is tired of dealing with Covid. What you see as ‘Covid fatigue’ around Europe has common characteristics.
Had Greece not taken the draconian measures it had, the Greek leader warned,”things would be significantly worse” now.
Acknowledging, however, that the Greek hospital system is “under stress,” he said “we are still able to deal with the problem, and I am certain that, had we not taken the steps that we did take a month ago we would be facing a much more severe crisis now.”
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.
The AstraZeneca product, created in a collaborative effort with Oxford University, was meant to not be financially profitable but to be available to the greatest number of people as quickly as possible.
It is an integral part of the World Health Organization’s campaign to rid the world of the coronavirus threat.
The WHO stated on Wednesday “In extensive vaccination campaigns, it is routine for countries to signal potential adverse events following immunization.
“This does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to vaccination itself, but it is good practice to investigate them. It also shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place.”
The statement was one of many aimed at calming anxious governments and their populations at a particularly precarious moment in the pandemic.
Although the AstraZeneca product comprises less than 20 percent of the hundreds of millions of doses ordered by the EU, it had remained a critical ingredient in their vaccination campaigns.