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COVID-19

AstraZeneca benefits outweigh risks, EMA says as EU orders 10 million more Pfizer doses

The EU's medicines regulator said Tuesday it was "firmly convinced" the benefits of AstraZeneca's vaccine outweigh potential risks, insisting there was no evidence linking it to blood clots after several nations suspended the shot over health fears. It came as Brussels sealed a deal for 10 million more Pfizer doses.

AstraZeneca benefits outweigh risks, EMA says as EU orders 10 million more Pfizer doses
This file illustration picture shows vials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and a figurine taken in a studio Paris on March 11, 2021. Joel Saget/AFP

The suspensions have provoked intense debate over whether it was prudent to put AstraZeneca inoculations on hold just as vaccination campaigns were beginning to gather pace in many countries.

Experts at both the World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency met Tuesday to discuss the vaccine, with the European organisation expected to publish conclusions Thursday.

While millions of doses of the vaccine developed with Oxford University have been administered, small numbers of people have developed blood clots, prompting countries including the European Union’s three largest nations – Germany, France and Italy – to suspend injections.

But the EMA insisted that countries should continue using the vaccine.

“We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death outweigh the risk of these side effects,” EMA chief Emer Cooke said Tuesday.

“At present there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions,” she added, echoing the WHO and drugmaker AstraZeneca itself.

Cooke noted however that the regulator was “looking at adverse events associated with all vaccines”.

France and Italy welcomed the news.

“Today’s preliminary statements from EMA are encouraging,” said a joint statement from French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Tuesday vowed he would be vaccinated “very quickly” with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to give the public confidence in the jab if it is ruled as safe by the EU medicines agency.

In France, health authorities said Tuesday they are investigating a new coronavirus variant found in the western Brittany region. The variant appears to be more difficult for nasal tests to detect, however for now it does not appear to be more dangerous or contagious.

Covid, not jab, to blame?

In Britain, which has administered more than 11 million AstraZeneca doses, experts see no evidence of more frequent blood clots among the inoculated.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in The Times newspaper that the shot “is safe and works extremely well”.

French immunologist Alain Fischer, who heads a government vaccination advisory board, said a higher than normal number of pulmonary embolisms – blood clots in the lungs – had caused alarm at the weekend.

“There were a few very unusual and troubling cases which justify this pause and the analysis,” Fischer told France Inter radio.

But one British scientist has argued that Covid-19 itself – and not the vaccine – could be to blame, as it was known to cause such problems.

The “very likely explanation of at least some of the clotting disorders seen are a result of Covid-19 rather than the vaccine”, said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmaco-epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

“Hence, even if there were a problem, acknowledged to be very rare with the AZ vaccine, the overall benefit would be so much greater than any speculative harm,” he added.

Coronavirus deaths across Europe meanwhile passed the 900,000 mark on Tuesday, making it the worst-hit global region in absolute terms, according to an AFP tally.

10 million Pfizer doses

More than 382 million doses of vaccine have been administered globally, the vast majority in wealthier countries while many poorer nations have yet to receive a single jab.

AstraZeneca’s shot, among the cheapest available, was billed as the vaccine of choice for poorer nations and the clot reports have had an impact beyond Europe.

Other countries that have halted or delayed the rollout include Indonesia, Venezuela, Denmark, Norway and the Netherlands – with Cyprus, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Sweden the latest to join the list.

The pandemic spurred unprecedented efforts to develop vaccines, with a number of successful options now available.

Rollouts have been hampered by export controls, bitter diplomatic disputes and production issues – in addition to the AstraZeneca suspension.

But on Tuesday Brussels sealed a deal to step up deliveries of 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, now scheduled to arrive in the EU before July rather than in the third quarter.

And a new agreement for Germany’s IDT Biologika to help produce the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine would offer Europe greater certainty, Germany’s economy minister said.

The developers of Russia’s successful Sputnik V vaccine also said they had reached production agreements in key European countries.

Member comments

  1. Unbelievable. The country has never been sicker, and what does the government do? Take AstraZeneca out of its arsenal to fight the virus. And NOT ONE WORD about what we, with jab #1, are supposed to do about jab #2. It’s insanity.

  2. It’s all political, there has been no mention of the deaths and blood clots that have happened with the Pfizer?

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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