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Vac-track Lockdown exit depends on green light for 'crucial' 818,000 AstraZeneca vaccines

Around 30,000 healthcare workers and people at very high risk from Covid-19 will lose out as their planned inoculations for the week ahead are put on hold.

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Prof Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said a decision is expected this week from the EMA. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Prof Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said a decision is expected this week from the EMA. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

Prof Karina Butler, chair of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, said a decision is expected this week from the EMA. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins

The Government is hoping for an early decision giving the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine the all clear to allow it to roll out a planned 818,000 doses of the jab which are crucial to exiting lockdown.

The decision to suspend use of the vaccine here this week as a precaution while European regulators investigate reports of blood clots associated with the jab is the latest set back.

Around 30,000 healthcare workers and people at very high risk from Covid-19 will lose out as their planned inoculations for the week ahead are put on hold.

Ireland is pinning its hopes on more than 800,000 doses of AstraZeneca arriving here from April to June as part of the ramping up of vaccinations to clear the way for lifting restrictions this summer.

The alert was raised after four people suffered unusual blood clotting events in Norway after getting the inoculation but there is no evidence the jab caused the illnesses.

Around 117,000 people have been given the vaccine here, mostly healthcare workers and some people with underlying illnesses.

The Health Products Regulatory Authority, which polices medicines here, said it received a “small number” of reports associated with blood clots following vaccination with the AstraZeneca jab but none like those described in Norway.

Prof Karina Butler of the National Immunisation Advisory Committee said a decision from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on the safety of the vaccine is due later this week.

She said: ”This is a precautionary move. We will continue to monitor the situation and if we can be satisfied these events are coincidental and not caused by this vaccine we will reassess the situation.”

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “Of course it will be very disappointing for people not to get their jab this week and I recognise that and regret it.

“I hope they will be comforted by the fact the clinical advice is erring on the side of caution while this issue is investigated. I’d be glad to know that this is clinically-led.”

Senior lecturer at University College Cork's School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology Dr Anne Moore said the deicsion to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine here comes “out of an abundance of caution".

Dr Moore also said that blood clots are "incredibly rare”.

Speaking on Morning Ireland today she said, “"It should be said it is an incredibly rare event, and there’s no proof at the moment that it has any linking with the vaccine, but out of an abundance of caution, Niac and the Irish Health Authorities have also agreed to pause the vaccination.

"It’s really important to say we don’t know yet, but the best thing to do is pause out of the interest in safety for everybody.

"If there is some link, and again that’s a big if, it may be due to when you use a vaccine you are kind of inducing an immune response.

"It does take time and effort by people in the health authorities and regulators to see if there is an emerging link.

"And that takes time for people to review.

"If you think there may be a risk, it is prudent to pause the vaccination process.

"The EMA is saying it could take a week. And in the meantime, AstraZeneca has gone through all its records and re-reviewed them again and said there’s no link between them.

"It is a fairly fast process."

GPs were issued with advice yesterday and told to tell patients who received the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine to seek medical help if they feel unwell more than three days after getting the jab.

Three health workers in Norway who had recently received the AstraZeneca vaccine are being treated in hospital for bleeding, blood clots and a low count of blood platelets.

Authorities in Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended the use of the vaccine over clotting issues, while Austria stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca shots last week as a death from coagulation disorders was investigated.

The EMA, in a preliminary report, said there was no indication that the events were caused by the vaccination but it is to carry out further investigations and deliver findings later this week.

As of March 10, 30 cases of blood clotting events were reported to the EMA’s database out of close to five million people in the EU getting the vaccine.

In a statement last night, AstraZeneca said the "available evidence does not confirm that the vaccine is the cause” of the blood clotting.

"So far across the EU and UK, there have been 15 events of DVT (deep vein thrombosis) and 22 events of pulmonary embolism reported among those given the vaccine, based on the number of cases the company has received as of March 8.

"This is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed Covid-19 vaccines.”

The cancellation of appointments this week will come as a disappointment to people with underlying illnesses at serious risk if they catch Covid-19.

Philip Watt of Cystic Fibrosis Ireland called for clearer communication from the HSE around the vaccination of around 1,000 people with CF.

A spokesman for the HSE said the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine will not affect the roll-out of the vaccine to the over-70s who are getting the Pifzer and Moderna jabs.

There are around 160,000 people at very high risk but up to last Wednesday only 627 of them had been vaccinated, although the target for last week was 10,000.

It comes amid growing concerns around another rise in Covid-19 cases which could delay the extent of reopening next month. Some 384 new cases were reported yesterday.

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