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British researchers have halted trials of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on children — as European health officials on Wednesday expressed growing confidence that it is tied to blood clots.
Oxford University, which developed the drug along with AstraZeneca, confirmed late Tuesday that it was halting the pioneering trials that involved children as young as 6.
“Whilst there are no safety concerns in the pediatric clinical trial, we await additional information” from regulators, an Oxford spokesperson said.
Hours later, Britain’s medicines regulator said a review of adults who have already had at least one AstraZeneca dose in the UK now showed there had been at least 79 blood clots, with 19 deaths.
Officials announced that those under 29 with no underlying health condition “should be offered an alternative COVID-19 vaccine in preference to the AstraZeneca vaccine” when available.
The advice was “out of the utmost caution, rather than because we have any serious safety concerns,” insisted Wei Shen Lim of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
The European Medicines Agency also confirmed Wednesday it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the blood clots that have already led to more than a dozen nations halting the company’s jab.
“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director.
However, the agency stressed that while it had received reports of 169 cases of rare brain blood clots possibly tied to the jab by early April, it followed 34 million doses in the European Economic Area.
“The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects,” Cooke insisted.
Dr. June Raine, head of Britain’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, echoed that sentiment, saying the benefits “continue to outweigh the risks for the vast majority of people.”
She called the unusual clots a “potential side effect” of the vaccine and said the evidence was “firming up,” but more study was needed to be sure.
The World Health Organization’s vaccine experts still insisted Wednesday that a link was “not confirmed,” and stressed that the reported occurrences were “very rare.”
“Based on current information, a causal relationship between the vaccine and the occurrence of blood clots with low platelets is considered plausible but is not confirmed,” the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said in a statement.
More than a dozen nations, many in Europe, have already halted use of the vaccine over the concerns.
In the US — where AstraZeneca’s vaccine is not yet approved — White House adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has said it may not actually be needed as the country will have sufficient supply from other drugmakers.
But the shot had been eyed as critical to other immunization campaigns across the world, particularly because it is cheaper and easier to store than many others.
“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” said Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee.
With Post wires
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