Thailand’s prime minister received a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca yesterday, as much of Asia shrugged off concerns about reports of blood clots in some recipients in Europe, saying that so far there is no evidence to link the two.
Many countries using the vaccine also said the benefits from inoculation far outweighed possible risks, even as parts of Europe suspended it pending investigation of potential side effects.
AstraZeneca has developed a manufacturing base in Asia, and the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has been contracted by the company to produce a billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations. Hundreds of millions more are to be manufactured this year in Australia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
“There are people who have concerns,” Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said after he received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. “But we must believe doctors, believe in our medical professionals.”
Thailand last week was the first country outside Europe to temporarily suspend using the AstraZeneca vaccine. Indonesia followed on Monday, saying it was waiting for a full report from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding possible side effects. But Thailand’s health authorities decided to go ahead with AstraZeneca, with Prayuth and members of his Cabinet receiving the first shots.
A large number of European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and international regulators said there is no evidence the shot is to blame.
The European Union’s (EU) drug regulatory agency called a meeting for tomorrow to review experts’ findings on the AstraZeneca shot and to decide whether action needs to be taken.
Other countries in the Asia-Pacific region also said they would press ahead with vaccination programmes.
In the Philippines, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said his country would not suspend usage because the benefits outweighed any risks. The country has so far received 525,00 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the WHO’s COVAX arrangement and has administered 12,788 doses so far. Several million more doses have been ordered by the government and private companies.
“There is still no clear data that shows that the blood clotting was caused by AstraZeneca. If such data will come out, maybe we will also stop the use of AstraZeneca,” Roque said. “As of now, our experts are saying again that the benefits we get from using AstraZeneca are larger than the side effects of this vaccine.”
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said his country would not suspend vaccinations. Australia has vaccinated about 200,000 people so far and plans to import and manufacture 70 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca.
“The government clearly, unequivocally, absolutely supports the AstraZeneca rollout, clearly, unequivocally, absolutely. And the reason why is very simple — it will help save lives and protect lives, and it’s done so on the basis of the medical advice,” Hunt told Parliament.