Denmark, Others Suspend Use of Astrazeneca Covid Vaccine Brought to Liberia over Suspected Side Effects

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Monrovia – Liberia will shortly begin administering the astraZeneca covid vaccines after receiving 96,000 doses that arrived in the country last Saturday under the COVAX initiative, a partnership between Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations Gavi, UNICEF and WHO.

But as Liberia readies for the application of the vaccine, some European countries are putting a halt to the administration of the vaccine due to suspected side effects that could cause further medical complication.

The Issue in Europe

An unconfirmed number of patients have developed blood clots after receiving the shot, according to health authorities. Iceland and Norway have also stopped administering the shot.

The Danish Health Authority on Thursday halted the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for 14 days.

It follows reports of “serious cases of blood clots among vaccinated people,” a statement read.

However, the authority stopped short of saying there was a direct link between the vaccine and the blood clots, “at the time being.”

“It is currently not possible to conclude whether there is a link. We are acting early, it needs to be thoroughly investigated,” Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said on Twitter.

Polly Roy, a virologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told DW that she believes the clots were, however, “probably not due to the vaccine itself.”

“Maybe they have some underlying problem,” said Roy.

Shortly after Denmark’s announcement, Iceland and Norway both halted the rollout of the vaccine.

Italy also moved to ban a batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine following reports “of some serious adverse effects.” The country’s medicine regulator stressed, however, that there was currently no established link between the alleged side-effects and the administration of the vaccine.

The Danish Medicines Agency said it had launched an investigation into the vaccine.

The probe is being carried out by corresponding agencies in other EU-countries as well as the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

The EMA is in charge of the evaluation and supervision of medicinal products in the EU.

“Both we and the Danish Medicines Agency have to respond to reports of possible serious side-effects, both from Denmark and other European countries,” the director of the Danish Health Authority, Soren Brostrom, said in a statement.

AstraZeneca said its shots are subject to strict and rigorous quality controls.

It said there have been “no confirmed serious adverse events associated with the vaccine.”

“There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine,” the EMA said in a statement. “The vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks,” the statement said. 

Austria recently stopped using AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.

The EMA found no evidence linking the Austrian cases to the AstraZeneca vaccine, the agency said on Wednesday.

It said the number of thromboembolic events — marked by the formation of blood clots — in people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine is no higher than that seen in the general population.

Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Latvia have also halted inoculations while the investigation continues. Meanwhile, Italy banned the use of a batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine over the blood clot suspicions.

Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said her country would continue to administer the vaccine and had not discovered any cases of blood clots related to it.

Doses Brought to Liberia

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO) Liberia representatives, who turned over the boxes to Liberia through the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Health, the boxes containing the 96,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses were flown via the COVAX initiative, a partnership between Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunizations Gavi, UNICEF and WHO.

The United States, Team Europe (the European Union and the European Union Member States), the United Kingdom, Japan and Canada are among the main donors to the COVAX Facility.

“The arrival of the vaccines in Liberia is part of the historic step towards achieving the goal of equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines globally, in what will be the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history. This delivery is part of a first wave of shipments that will continue to different countries in the coming days and weeks,” UNICEF said in a statement.

UNICEF further stated that the arrival of the 96,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), marks the first batch of vaccine shipped to Liberia by the COVAX initiative as part of its unprecedented efforts to deliver at least 2 billion doses of the vaccine globally by the end of 2021.

The UN specialized agency also revealed that ahead of the arrival of the vaccines, Liberia received 97,000 syringes and 600 safety boxes that will be used for the administration and disposal of immunization wastes. The syringes are vital as the vaccine itself and it is critical to have adequate supply of syringes in Liberia ahead of the arrival of the vaccine. 

“The arrival of the first vaccines represents an important moment for Liberia as it gives the people a tool to halt a global disease that has already impacted the lives and livelihoods of so many. I’m very proud of Liberia team who made this important step a reality, “Jonna Jeurlink, Senior Country Manager at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Niels Scott, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Liberia said, “the United Nations is proud to support the Government in saving lives and ensuring an equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines through COVAX, the largest and most varied portfolio of COVID-19 vaccines globally.”

Dr. Peter Clement, WHO Representative in Liberia said “the delivery of vaccines to Liberia today is a historic moment and reaffirms WHO’s commitment to ensure access to life saving vaccines for eligible people in Liberia. It also signifies the strong partnership and collaboration to control COVID-19 in Liberia and globally. Let us continue with the COVID-19 preventive measures because these vaccines will not be used for mass vaccination but selected category of people.”

Receiving the boxes, Foreign Minister Dee Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr, cautioned against conspiracy theory against the administration of the COVID_19 vaccines in Liberia.

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