Thailand to administer AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after delay over safety

Thailand's mass vaccination strategy is heavily reliant on the AstraZeneca shot.
Thailand's mass vaccination strategy is heavily reliant on the AstraZeneca shot.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand announced plans on Monday (March 15) to go ahead with AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine and Germany said it would continue to administer the shot despite other countries suspending its use over safety fears.

Denmark and Norway have reported cases of bleeding, blood clots and a low platelet count, prompting Ireland and the Netherlands on Sunday to join them in announcing suspensions.

On Monday Indonesia said it would also delay giving the vaccine.

Iceland had earlier suspended its use while Austria and Italy’s Piedmont region have stopped using particular batches.

AstraZeneca said on Sunday it had conducted a review covering more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and the UK which had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

Thailand became the first country outside Europe to delay rolling out the vaccine on Friday, when its political leaders were due to have the first shots, but the government said on Monday they would receive the AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday.

Indonesia, however, said it would delay administering the vaccine due to the reports of blood clots among some recipients in Europe and would await a review from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

On Friday the WHO said there was no indication that the events were caused by the vaccination, a view earlier expressed by the European Medicines Agency.

AstraZeneca’s shot was the first and cheapest to be developed and launched at volume since the coronavirus was first identified in central China at the end of 2019 and is set to be the mainstay of vaccination programmes in much of the developing world.

The handful of reported side-effects in Europe have upset vaccination programmes already under pressure over slow rollouts and vaccine scepticism in some countries.

The Netherlands said on Monday it had seen 10 cases of noteworthy adverse side-effects from the AstraZeneca vaccine, hours after the government put its vaccination programme on hold following reports of possible side-effects in other countries.

Denmark reported “highly unusual” symptoms in a 60-year-old citizen who died from a blood clot after receiving the vaccine, the same phrase used on Saturday by Norway about three people under the age of 50 it said were being treated in hospital.

“It was an unusual course of illness around the death that made the Danish Medicines Agency react,” the agency said in a statement late on Sunday.

In Germany, the question marks over the vaccine caused a political row, with the leader of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), Markus Soeder, saying the country needed clear guidance from its own experts.

Noting that some other European Union countries had stopped using the vaccine, Soeder told a news conference: “That’s why there has to be an extra clear statement in Germany: is the vaccine good or bad?”

The health ministry said the country was continuing to use the AstraZeneca vaccine according to the European Medicines Agency’s guidelines.

The reports of potential safety risks are taken seriously and data is examined constantly, a ministry spokesman told Reuters. Further proceedings would be discussed with the European and the national vaccine regulators this week, he said.

Thai Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul earlier on Monday said the AstraZeneca vaccine would be given to the Cabinet if cleared by local health experts, who were meeting on Monday.

Mr Anutin said many countries had confirmed there were no issues of blood clots as a side effect of the vaccine and would continue administering it.

"Our academic committee said it should be given and they will meet this afternoon for more confidence," he said. "If there is no further information, it will be given tomorrow."

Thailand's mass vaccination strategy is heavily reliant on the AstraZeneca shot, which will be produced locally from June for regional distribution, with 61 million doses reserved for its population.

Thailand has imported some AstraZeneca vaccine shots, in addition to 200,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China for medical workers and high-risk groups. A further 800,000 Sinovac doses would arrive on March 20, Mr Anutin said on his Facebook page.