WHO Says AstraZeneca-Oxford Vaccine is Safe
Overall evidence clears the company from side effect issues
Sam Fazeli, a Bloomberg Opinion contributor who covers the pharmaceutical industry for Bloomberg Intelligence, answered questions after Denmark and Norway suspended the use of some or all of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford amid concern over the risk of blood clots. This follows temporary suspensions of the shot in other European countries because of safety issues, as well as questions about how Astra-Oxford conducted vaccine trials and the shot’s effectiveness compared to other vaccines. The conversation has been edited and condensed.
A vaccine side effect like blood clots sounds serious. But this hasn’t been an issue in the U.K., where millions of Astra vaccines have been given without incident. Are health officials being overly cautious?
I don’t think you can be too cautious, but there is a balance that needs to be struck. This is a massive vaccination effort and you need to be careful and assess any possible risk, but in a calculated manner. It’s unfortunate that it’s happening with the Astra vaccine. Even if they end up finding that the side effect had nothing to do with the vaccine, the noise when such events are announced is a lot louder than when the question is answered — and it adds to the skepticism around this vaccine, and possibly others. Health authorities are stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they don’t take precautionary action, and there was some link, then they have put their population at risk. If they do, then it raises the risk of vaccine skepticism. The right way to do this, though, would be to connect with U.K. and other drug regulators first and ask them if they had seen any signals in the millions of people who have been vaccinated, just like you would go to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in the U.S. or Israeli health authorities if you had a suspected side effect with the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine, given the millions of doses they have administered there. Did this happen? It’s not clear. We need a coordinated surveillance system here, which sadly doesn’t appear to be in operation in the European Union, given that even with regulators’ endorsement, some EU countries have gone their own way and temporarily suspended vaccinations.
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