(Reuters) – Australia and the Philippines limited the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, while the African Union abandoned plans to buy the vaccine amid global scarcity, further undermining the company’s hopes of delivering a vaccine for the world.
The vaccine – developed with the University of Oxford and considered a pioneer in the global vaccine race – has been plagued by safety concerns and supply problems since the results of the Phase III trial were published in December, with Indonesia the last country forced to fetch doses from other drug manufacturers.
The Philippines suspended the use of AstraZeneca vaccines for children under 60 after the European regulator said on Wednesday that it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients, although it still believes the vaccine’s benefits outweigh its risks.
Australia recommended that people under 50 years of age receive the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer instead of AstraZeneca, a policy change that warned it would delay its inoculation campaign.
The AstraZeneca injection is sold at cost, for a few dollars a dose. It is by far the cheapest and largest volume launched so far, and has none of the extreme cooling requirements of some other COVID-19 vaccines, making it probably the mainstay of many inoculation programs in the developing world.
But more than a dozen countries have suspended or partially suspended the use of the injection, first because of concerns about effectiveness in older people, and now because of concerns about rare dangerous side effects in younger people.
This, together with setbacks in production, will delay the launch of vaccines worldwide, as governments struggle to find alternatives to tame the pandemic that killed more than 3 million.
On Wednesday, Italy joined France, the Netherlands, Germany and other countries in recommending a minimum age to receive the AstraZeneca injection, and Britain said under-30s should have an alternative. South Korea also suspended the use of the vaccine in people under 60 this week by approving the Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine.
AstraZeneca said it is working with British and European regulators to list possible brain blood clots as “a potentially extremely rare side effect”.
South Africa also stopped AstraZeneca vaccinations last month, after a small study showed that the injection offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illnesses caused by the dominant local variant of the coronavirus.
AstraZeneca is struggling with production problems that have led to a shortage of its vaccine in several countries.
Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Thursday that the country is in talks with China to get up to 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to fill a delivery gap caused by delays in vaccine arrival AstraZeneca.
India has temporarily suspended all major AstraZeneca injection exports from the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, as domestic infections increase.
This affected supplies for the global GAVA / WHO-supported COVAX vaccine sharing facility, whereby 64 poorer countries must receive doses of the SII, the program’s purchasing and distribution partner, UNICEF, told Reuters in the month. past.
GAVI and the World Health Organization said in a statement on Thursday that the facility has delivered nearly 38.4 million doses to more than 100 countries and economies on six continents and expects to deliver doses to all participating economies that have requested vaccines at the first half of the year.
AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, was quoted in the statement as saying that more than 37 million doses of the company’s vaccine were delivered through COVAX.
“We continue to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to fulfill our unwavering commitment to broad, equitable and accessible access,” he said.
The African Union is exploring vaccine options with Johnson & Johnson, said the head of the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She abandoned plans to buy SII’s AstraZeneca vaccine to avoid duplication of efforts by COVAX, which will continue to supply the vaccine to Africa.
Britain is slowing down the vaccine launch due to delays in shipping AstraZeneca vaccines from India and is at odds with the EU over vaccine exports. Australia also blamed the delays in its immunization campaign on supply issues in Europe.
AstraZeneca cited reduced yields at a European plant for the shortfall in supply to the European Union.
Reporting from Reuters offices around the world; Written by Kirsten Donovan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Bill Berkrot