Dr Mark Toshner

Europe’s vaccine suspensions could come back to bite Britain

Germany is the latest country to suspend the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine over concerns about possible side effects. The Netherlands and Ireland have taken similar steps. So too has Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria and Iceland, while Italy and Austria have halted the use of certain batches of the drug as a precautionary measure. 

Britain has done many things wrong in its handling of the pandemic, but it has done one thing well: the rollout of the jab. It’s the one place where we have useful lessons to teach the world in Covid-19. Europe, in particular, does not appear to be listening.

Vaccine programmes as ambitious as the one needed now require joined-up international co-ordination and action. These latest delays to the rollout spells bad news for Britain – and miserable news for Europe and the rest of the world.

What reasonable member of the public wouldn’t watch this and have some lingering doubts?

Fears over pulmonary emboli sparked the decisions to stop the vaccine rollouts. But this seems to be a mistake. Blood clots, while serious, are very common. This means that any association with vaccination should theoretically be relatively straightforward to prove, given the huge numbers of vaccines administered so far. And the numbers don’t point to any convincing links.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have not seen any uptick in blood clots in the more than 11 million doses given in Britain. AstraZeneca have even more doses in their database and say thrombosis is lower than expected. The European Medicines Agency don’t see any evidence of a connection. Nor, too, does the World Health Organisation. Ireland’s deputy chief medical officer, Ronan Glynn, has stressed there is no proof that this vaccine causes blood clots.

But despite all this pretty consistent evidence, vaccination programmes have been halted after a handful of cases. The stated reason sounds, on the face of it, sensible: safety.

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