Australia and the Philippines on Thursday restricted the use of the COVID-19 vaccine against AstraZeneca, while the African Union abandoned plans to buy shots amid global shortages, further damaging the company’s hopes of delivering the vaccine to the world.
The vaccine – developed with Oxford University and considered a leader in the global vaccine race – has been plagued by safety concerns and supply problems since the results of a phase III trial were released in December, and Indonesia is the latest country to force doses from other drugmakers.
The Philippines suspended the use of AstraZenec vaccines for people under the age of 60 after the European regulator on Wednesday discovered rare cases of blood clots in some adult recipients, although it still believes the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
Australia has recommended people under the age of 50 to get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, not AstraZeneca, which is a policy change that has warned they will keep the vaccination campaign.
Why rare blood clots could be a side effect of AstraZeneca COVID-19
The AstraZeneca shot sells for a few dollars per dose. It is the cheapest and most comprehensive launch to date and does not have any of the ultimate cooling requirements of some other COVID-19 vaccines, making it probably the mainstay of many vaccination programs in the developing world.
But more than a dozen countries have suddenly suspended or partially suspended the use of shots, first because of concerns about effectiveness in older people and now because of concerns about rare dangerous side effects in younger people.
This, along with production delays, will delay the introduction of vaccines around the world as governments struggle to find alternatives to tame the pandemic that has killed more than 3 million.
Italy on Wednesday joined France, the Netherlands, Germany and others in recommending a minimum age for recipients of the AstraZeneca shooting, and Britain said people under the age of 30 should get an alternative. South Korea also suspended the use of the vaccine in people under the age of 60 this week, while approving the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.
AstraZeneca said it was working with British and European regulators to list possible blood clots in the brain as “an extremely rare potential side effect”.
Rare blood clots should be listed as possible side effects of AstraZeneca: EMA
South Africa also stopped vaccinating against AstraZeneca last month after a small study showed that the shoot offers minimal protection against mild to moderate disease caused by a dominant variant of the local coronavirus.
AstraZeneca is struggling with production problems that have led to shortages of its vaccine in several countries.
Indonesian Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said on Thursday that the country is negotiating with China to receive as many as 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to fill the gap in deliveries caused by delays in the arrival of injections from AstraZeneca.
India has temporarily halted all major exports of AstraZeneca injection made by the Indian Serum Institute (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker, as domestic infections grow.
This has affected the supply of the global GAVI / WHO-supported COVAX vaccine exchange facility, through which 64 poorer countries should receive doses of SII, a UNICEF procurement and distribution partner told Reuters last month.
‘Millions of data’ should overcome AstraZeneca’s fears: health expert Tim Caulfield
GAVI and the World Health Organization said in a statement Thursday that the facility had 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 requested vaccines in the first half.
The statement quoted AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot as saying that more than 37 million doses of the company’s vaccine had been delivered through COVAX.
“We continue to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to fulfill our unwavering commitment to a broad, fair and accessible approach,” 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 rejected plans to buy an AstraZeneca injection from SII to avoid duplicating the efforts of COVAX, which will continue to supply the vaccine to Africa.
‘Possible’ link between AstraZenec vaccine and rare blood clots, says EU drug regulator
Britain is slowing down the introduction of vaccines due to delays in the delivery of AstraZeneca injections from India and is arguing with the EU over vaccine exports. Australia also blamed supply issues in Europe for the delay in the immunization campaign.
AstraZeneca cited reduced yields in the European plant due to a lack of supply to the European Union.
(Reporting from Reuters bureaus around the world; Written by Kirsten Donovan; Editing by Nick Macfie and Bill Berkrot)