Is AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine actually safe to get?

is the astrazeneca vaccine safe
Photo via Marco Verch/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Despite concerns about links between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clotting, leading a number of European nations to suspend its use earlier in the week, the European Medicines Agency ruled on March 18 that the vaccine is indeed “safe and effective” in its use against COVID-19. 

As the New York Times reported, the EMA ruling is “a finding that officials hope will alleviate concerns about possible rare side effects involving blood clots and allow more than a dozen countries that halted its use to add it back into their arsenal against the resurgent coronavirus.” 

The EMA announcement came two days after Australian health officials deemed the vaccine safe. The Guardian reported on March 16 that the nation’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, says there is no evidence the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots. 

“I would make it very clear that here in Australia, safety is our first priority, and in any large vaccine rollout we do expect to see unusual events and we monitor very closely and carefully for those, but this does not mean that an event that happens after vaccination has been given is indeed due to that vaccine,” Kelly said.

Kelly’s expression in its confidence was echoed Thursday in the EMA committee report. In the Guardian’s live coverage of that event on March 18,  EMA chief Emer Cooke noted that the committee ruled the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to be “a safe and effective vaccine,” with benefits outweighing any possible risks. She also specifically noted that it is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots—the concern that led a number of European nations to halt its use. 

The Washington Post noted that those nations halting the vaccine’s use—including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Ireland, Norway, and Denmark—were waiting on EMA recommendations on how to proceed.

That article noted that the scientific community isn’t uniformly convinced, with some warning “that the extremely unusual and deadly nature of blood clots detected, even if in small numbers, warrant caution.” It cited Norwegian experts who investigated three cases of unusual clots among health workers there, one of which was fatal. The researchers contend they were likely caused by an immune response to the vaccine.

Cooke did note that the EMA is looking to do observational studies to investigate blood clotting claims in the future and has stopped short of ruling out a causative link between the vaccine and the reported blood clots. 

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Sources: New York Times, The Guardian [1] [2], Washington Post

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