Agency says vaccine benefits outweigh risks

Europe's medicines watchdog said Tuesday (March 16) that the benefits of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine continue to outweigh the risks.

That after several countries halted its use because of concerns about blood clots.

Sweden and Latvia became the latest to pause their rollout of the shots on Tuesday, joining the EU's largest members who suspended their vaccines on Monday (March 15) pending the outcome of investigations into unusual cases of a rare cerebral thrombosis in people who had received it.

The director general of Italy's medicines authority said on Tuesday that the decision by Germany, France, and Italy to pause the shots is a quote, "political one."

The EMA's Executive Director Emer Cooke said the agency was carrying out a case-by-case evaluation of incidents and was expected to complete a review on Thursday.

"I want to also stress that at present, there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions (blood clots). They had not come up in the clinical trials, and they are not listed as known or expected side events with this vaccine. In clinical trials, both the vaccinated people and the people who received the placebo have shown some very small numbers of blood clot developments. The number of thromboembolic events overall in the vaccinated people, overall, seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population."

European epidemiologists remain baffled that similar cases of blood clots had not occurred in unusual numbers in Britain, which began using AstraZeneca earlier and has administered more than 10 million doses.

AstraZeneca said last week it would try to deliver 30 million doses to the European Union by the end of March, down from a contractual obligation of 90 million and a previous pledge made last month to deliver 40 million doses.

Still, the European Commission said on Tuesday it expects to receive more than 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech in the second quarter, putting the EU on course to meet its vaccination target.