Enlarge /. Vials in front of the logo of UK biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca can be seen in this creative photo taken on November 18, 2020.
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The World Health Organization urges countries to keep using AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine as fears about linking the shots to blood clots continue to spread.
More than a dozen countries, including Germany, France, Italy and Spain, recently suspended or restricted use of the vaccine. Sweden and Luxembourg were among the last to pause vaccinations on Tuesday.
The suspensions were triggered by a handful of reports that people developed blood clots at some point after receiving the vaccine. Some of the people later died.
There is no evidence that the vaccine caused these blood clots, which are relatively common in the general population. In many countries, however, vaccinations have been temporarily suspended as a precaution.
In a press conference on Monday, Soumya Swaminathan, WHO chief scientist, remarked that "people die every day, so the question really is the vaccine connection."
"So we have to look at all of the data," she said. “The experts are studying the data and so far we cannot find a link between these events and the vaccine as the frequency with which these events occurred in the vaccinated group is actually lower than you would expect in the EU general population same time. "
AstraZeneca had reiterated this point in a previous press release, stating that data from 17 million people vaccinated across Europe and the UK did not find an increased incidence of blood clotting events.
In comments to the Associated Press on Tuesday, European Medicines Agency head Emer Cooke also strongly advocated continued use of the vaccine.
"We remain strong believers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with the associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risk of side effects," Cooke said.
Still, governments hit the pause button on the heels of their colleagues, possibly out of political pressure and / or fear of looking light-hearted.
Scientists fear that even brief interruptions in vaccination campaigns could hamper progress against the virus, especially as Europe faces a third wave of infections.
In a statement on Wednesday, WHO sought to take control of the changing situation and reiterated its support for the vaccine.
Currently, WHO believes that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks and recommends that vaccinations be continued.
AstraZeneca's vaccine is approved for use by WHO and regulatory agencies in the European Union and other countries. However, it is not yet approved in the United States. The company is completing a study of 32,000 US participants and the data is currently being reviewed. A company spokesman said in a statement to Reuters: "We expect data from our US Phase III study will be available soon and we plan to file an emergency permit shortly thereafter." Additional safety data from this study may allay current concerns about the vaccine.