AstraZeneca boss slammed for not defending jab
The chief executive of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, has been criticised for not defending the effectiveness of the company's vaccine, as it was revealed the jab has links to rare blood clots.
Mr Soriot has reportedly been in Australia with his wife and children since Christmas, according to the UK Telegraph.
Ketan Patel, a fund manager at EdenTree Investment Management, which has a stake in AstraZeneca, said Mr Soriot's absence "did not give the right signal or message".
"If we were grading the PR effort, they could do better," he told the Telegraph.
"If you look at the data, and see that the chances of getting a blood clot with this vaccine is about four in one million, compared to four in 10,000 for the contraceptive pill, that perspective needs to be highlighted."
"Where is the chief executive in terms of articulating the healthcare benefits? He hasn't been that public and being halfway around the world doesn't give the right signal or message," Mr Patel said.
A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said Mr Soriot would return to the company's European offices after travel restrictions were eased.
"Travel restrictions and local lockdowns mean it makes little sense to be travelling right now, particularly given that many countries require quarantine," the spokesperson said.
As Australia says those under the age of 50 should preferably get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine after the AstraZeneca jab was linked to "rare but serious blood clots", the vaccine's rollercoaster ride has taken another twist with a growing list of countries restricting its use over "very rare" blood clots.
While Britain, whose Oxford University developed the vaccine, now no longer recommends it for the under 30s, South Africa has rejected it outright.
Nevertheless, the vaccine is still the most widely used in the world and remains cheaper and easier to store than its competitors.
It has already been given in some 111 countries - more than its competitors Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna put together.
South Africa suspended its vaccine rollout - meant to begin with AstraZeneca in February - after a study found the jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a variant found there.
Instead it offered its doses to the African Union.
More than a dozen countries including the biggest European Union nations suspended AstraZeneca shots in mid-March because of fears over blood clots and other possible side effects.
Most then restarted using it after Europe's drugs regulator said it was "safe and effective".
But some other countries continued their suspensions, including Norway and Denmark.
Many countries have resumed the vaccine's use only for older people, aged 55 and above, because the clots tend to affect younger people more.
These include France, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Finland, Iceland and Sweden as well as Canada.
But the doubts about blood clots did not go away, and the EU and British drugs regulators said Wednesday that it was linked to clotting in some rare cases.
Spain, the Philippines and Italy reacted by suspending the jab for people under 60 while Belgium restricted it to over 55s.
Oxford University has suspended trials on children following the new concerns. Britain, which has already given more than 20 million doses of jab, says it will now offer alternative vaccines to young people.
Despite criticisms over supply difficulties and safety concerns, the AstraZeneca vaccine is today being administered in around 111 countries and territories.
The jab also forms the bulk of those being given for free to poorer countries under the Covax scheme led by the WHO, the Gavi vaccine alliance and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
COVAX BACKS ASTRAZENECA VACCINE
Meanwhile, Covax backed the AstraZeneca jab on Thursday (local time) as the scheme celebrated shipping coronavirus vaccine doses to 100 different territories around the world, despite delays dogging deliveries.
AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine accounts for almost the entire first wave of doses being distributed via the facility, which ensures the 92 poorest participating economies can access jabs for free.
But the program has been hit by delays after New Delhi put the brake on exports from the Serum Institute of India plant to deal with a rampant second wave of COVID-19 infections.
The SII is one of two sites producing AstraZeneca doses for Covax. The other is in South Korea.
Covax's first wave intended to distribute some 238.2 million doses to 142 participating economies by May 31.
Of those, 237 million are AstraZeneca doses and 1.2 million are Pfizer/BioNTech. A number of nations have suspended the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine for younger populations after it was earlier banned outright in several countries over blood clot scares.
The EU's medicines regulator said Wednesday that blood clots should be listed as a rare side effect of the AstraZeneca jab, stressing benefits continue to outweigh risks.
And the World Health Organisation's immunisation experts said a causal link was "considered plausible but is not confirmed", adding that reported occurrences were "very rare".
The risk-benefit balance remains "very much in favour of the vaccine" the WHO said.
Covax is co-led by the WHO, the Gavi vaccine alliance, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations.
Gavi said safety and efficacy was the "top priority for Covax". The scheme follows WHO guidance on vaccine products, which "remains unchanged" for the AstraZeneca jab, a Gavi spokeswoman said.
"The AstraZeneca vaccine remains an important public health tool against the COVID-19 pandemic and is effective at preventing severe cases, hospitalisation and death."
FRANCE HITS 10m JAB TARGET
Meanwhile, France has given a first jab of a vaccine against COVID-19 to 10 million people, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday (local time) amid an acceleration in the rollout after a sluggish start.
"It's a very good performance. France is vaccinating a lot," Mr Castex said after visiting an inoculation centre east of Paris, hailing the figure of 10 million first jabs one week ahead of a government target.
France fell behind its European neighbours after the start of vaccinations in January, but is now jabbing on average around 200,000-300,000 people per day.
EU members have faced a shortage of doses which has been blamed on a centralised purchasing and distribution system.
French President Emmanuel Macron has compared European efforts to a "diesel engine".
"It starts slowly but it goes far," he told Greece's ERT channel last month. The government has forecast 20 million first time jabs by mid-May and 30 million by mid-June.
Meanwhile, the French Open has been delayed by a week to May 30 in the hope that heightened restrictions in Paris will have eased to allow the maximum number of fans to attend one of the big four annual tennis tournaments.
Originally published as AstraZeneca worldwide: Who's using the jab and who's not