Norway’s public health institute FHI, responsible for the country’s vaccination program, aims to present a new evaluation of the AstraZeneca vaccine later this week. While a US study concludes the vaccine is safe, Norwegian health officials announced two new deaths over the weekend from blood clots that may be tied to the vaccine.
“Some of our examinations demand a lot of time, but we’re working as quickly as we can,” Dr Preben Aavitsland of FHI (Folkehelseinstitutt) told news bureau NTB Monday afternoon. “It’s more important to make a decision that’s correct than one that’s quick.”
The decision involves whether FHI will continue to offer the AstraZeneca vaccine in Norway, which is currently suspended. The EU has concluded that it’s safe, with its advantages far outweighing its disadvantages. Norwegian health authorities, however, continue to be concerned by unusual cases of blood clotting and internal hemorrhaging in otherwise healthy people who’ve received the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Two more patients at the National Hospital in Oslo (Oslo University Hospital-Rikshospitalet) died during the weekend after suffering blood clots, internal bleeding and low blood platelets. That brings the number of such fatalities after taking the Astra Zeneca vaccine to four. Five people, all under the age of 55, have been admitted to Rikshospitalet with such symptoms and three have died, plus a fourth woman who’d been rushed to Ullevål University Hospital in Oslo from the hospital in Lillehammer. She was a health care worker who’d been vaccinated early in connection with her work.
None of the symptoms, of which warnings were issued before the weekend, have been connected to anyone taking the other vaccines. Last week, Norwegian doctors investigating the deaths of their patients reported that they’d found a link to the vaccine.
The number of suspicious deaths tied to the vaccine remains tiny when compared to the tens of thousands of people injected with it in Norway since January. Steinar Madsen, medical leader of Norway’s state drug administration, nonetheless told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Monday that the deaths were “very sad” and “tragic,” especially given the lack of other health-related problems in the four victims.
The main question now is why their immune systems reacted so strongly to the vaccine, which, according to the Rikshospitalet doctors’ findings, led in turn to a sharp reduction in their blood platelets and, ultimately, both brain and stomach hemorrhaging. “Oslo University Hospital has made a formidable contribution to finding out what happened with these patients, and now there’s more research going on in other countries,” Madsen told NRK. “We’ve also seen a considerable number of other cases like this in Europe.”
Other experts support ongoing use
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) cleared the vaccine for ongoing use last week, and both British and US medical experts have found AstraZeneca’s to be safe and effective as well. The US findings are based on studies of more than 32,000 people, also in Chile and Peru, according to the BBC.
Norway’s FHI was tracking all recent hospital admissions nationwide to check whether any other cases of sudden and fatal internal bleeding have been overlooked. “We’re also cooperating with experts in blood diseases, immunology and virology to understand the mechanism behind the illness (the blood clotting and hemorrhaging),” Aavitsland told NRK, “and how the AstraZeneca vaccine may have contributed to the incidents.”
He said FHI wants to be able to conclude whether the AstraZeneca actually presents a higher risk, what the mechanism in the vaccine may be and whether there are factors among the four who have died that may have contributed to the reactions they suffered. FHI will thus determine whether to resume use of the vaccine in Norway.