Most of the countries that suspended the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine were located in Europe. Some nations outside the continent followed suit and temporarily stopped vaccination efforts using the drug manufacturer's vaccine made in partnership with the University of Oxford.
In Norway, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) and the Norwegian Medicines Agency reported on March 12 that a health worker died of a brain hemorrhage after getting the AstraZeneca vaccine. The next day, the two agencies received three more reports of severe cases of blood clots in younger people who got the jab. All four patients also reported a low blood platelet count.
Dr. Pål Andre Holme of the Oslo University Hospital said it was "very unusual" to see the low blood platelet count in the young patients. "These are healthy, young people who have not had any kind of disease before, who then get severe blood clots. You have to ask questions whether there is a connection with the vaccine," Holme said.
Germany halted use of the vaccine as a precautionary measure after cases were reported. German Health Minister Jens Spahn said seven cases of "brain thrombosis" were reported in those who recently got the AstraZeneca vaccine. He added that the Paul Erlich Institute – Germany's federal vaccine authority – "considers further necessary investigation" due to the adverse reactions.
However, not everyone in the country received the decision to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine warmly. University of Cologne epidemiology professor Karl Lauterbach called the German government's move "a mistake." He commented: "Testing without suspension of vaccination would have been better because of the rarity of the complication."
Health authorities have insisted the vaccine's possible benefits outweigh its reported risks.
World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a March 16 press conference: "This does not necessarily mean these [adverse] events are linked to the vaccine, but it's routine practice to investigate them – and it shows that the [vaccine] surveillance system works and effective controls are in place."
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) also defended the jab, saying that its benefits outweigh any possible risks. EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said in a concurrent March 16 press conference that there is "no indication that vaccination has caused these [serious] conditions."
She added: "A situation like this is not unexpected when you vaccinate millions of people."
While some countries have temporary halted the use of AstraZeneca's jab, others have insisted on still using the vaccine. (Related: 20+ countries suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine, but regulators insist 'benefits outweigh risks'.)
Thailand initially suspended its vaccination program using the British drug manufacturer's vaccine. The country's Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Thailand's vaccine management committee had taken action to ensure "the maximum safety of the public." However, the kingdom resumed vaccinations using the jab – with Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha receiving his dose on March 16. "There are people who have concerns, [but] we must believe doctors … [and] our medical professionals," he said after getting inoculated.
The Philippines also insisted on using the vaccine, having received 525,000 doses and administered 12,788 doses to the population so far. Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said: "There is still no clear data that shows the blood clotting was caused by [the] AstraZeneca [jab.] If such data will come out, maybe we will also stop the [vaccine's] use." He remarked that for now, vaccinations using the jab will continue as "experts are saying … the benefits … are larger than the side effects of this vaccine."
Australia's Minister of Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt said the country would not suspend vaccination. "The government clearly, unequivocally [and] absolutely supports the AstraZeneca rollout. And the reason why is very simple – it will help save … and protect lives, and it's done so on the basis of the medical advice."
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly seconded Hunt's statement, saying there was no evidence so far that the vaccine indeed causes blood clots. "I do not see that there is any specific link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots, and I'm not alone in that opinion," he commented. (Related: Aussie Health Minister Greg Hunt hospitalized after getting the AstraZeneca coronavirus jab.)