A World Health Organization expert advisory committee is looking at the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after some countries paused its distribution, but there is no reason not to use it, a spokeswoman has said.
Health authorities in countries including Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended use of the vaccine in response to reports of the formation of blood clots in some people who have received it.
Margaret Harris told a briefing on Friday it was an “excellent vaccine” and that no causal relationship had been established between it and the health problems reported.
“It’s very important to understand that, yes, we should continue to be using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” she said.
The WHO’s global advisory committee on vaccine safety was reviewing the reports and would report on its findings, she said. “It is very important we are hearing safety signals because if we were not hearing about safety signals that would suggest there is not enough review and vigilance.”
Despite concerns in Europe, Canada’s public health officials say they intend to continue administering the AstraZeneca vaccine. The health minister, Patty Hajdu, said the vaccine was given a “thorough review” before its approval in late February.
“Each lot is also analysed from a health and safety perspective and we here in Canada don’t have concerns with the AstraZeneca that we’re receiving,” she said during a television interview. “I will also say that we monitor very closely with provinces, in fact they report up through Health Canada, any adverse effects.”
The country’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, expressed confidence in the vaccine, saying she “wouldn’t hesitate” to take it if offered. Tam also pointed out that Canada has a different batch of the vaccine, produced in India instead of Europe, and hasn’t seen any adverse effects.
Canada received its first shipment of the vaccine last week, an initial 500,000 doses and is to receive 20m doses in late spring.
Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Friday that his country would continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine. “I trust our Therapeutic Goods Administration and the advice that they give me,” he said.
“All the data from all of the places that we have relationships with, which obviously includes Europe, is being fed into the TGA, and that data is examined and that’s what informs the decisions that we take here in Australia.”
Thailand has delayed its deployment of the vaccine, a health official has said. The country was scheduled to start using it on Friday.
Piyasakol Sakolsatayadorn, an adviser for the country’s Covid-19 vaccine committee, said: “Vaccine injections for Thais must be safe. We do not have to be in a hurry. Though the quality of AstraZeneca is good, some countries have asked for a delay. We will delay.”
Thailand began its vaccination campaign last month with the Chinese-made Sinovac vaccine. Health workers were the first to receive the injections on 28 February.
The AstraZeneca vaccine is the mainstay of the early phase of the Covax global vaccine sharing scheme, which is led by the WHO and aims to distribute 2bn doses this year to ensure access for poorer countries.
WHO data shows that more than 268m doses of Covid-19 vaccines from various developers have been administered worldwide and no deaths have been attributed to them, Harris said.
The Geneva-based body has given emergency use listing for the Pfizer/BioNTech and versions of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a step that broadens access to them considerably.
Asked about the timing of emergency listings for China’s Sinopharm and Sinovac Biotech vaccines, she said reviews were under way and approval would probably be given this month.
“I don’t want to put an exact date on depending on all sorts of issues but we would expect by the end of March,” she said.