Health officials in Northern Ireland will continue to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after its suspension in the Republic of Ireland.
The country’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) recommended the move after reports of serious blood clotting events in adults in Norway.
Ireland’s Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said it was “precautionary”.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said there was no link between the jab and an increased risk of clotting.
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was aware of the suspension in Ireland and was “closely reviewing reports”.
“But given the large number of doses administered, and the frequency at which blood clots can occur naturally, the evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause,” a spokesperson said.
In a statement, Northern Ireland’s Department of Health said it administers vaccines under the “expert direction of the MHRA”.
It said it had received guidance from the MHRA in light of the vaccine’s suspension in the Republic and that the “roll-out of Northern Ireland’s vaccination programme will continue”.
The Department of Health also said a “further expansion of the programme will be announced very shortly”.
Chair of The British Medical Association NI’s GP committee, Dr Alan Stout, said it was important that anyone with a vaccine appointment scheduled attends it as planned.
“We are confident that the vaccine is extremely safe to use and it is one of the key facets of our fight against Covid-19,” he said.
‘It may be nothing’
More than 110,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been administered in Ireland, which is about 20% of all doses given to date.
Ireland’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said new information had been received from the Norwegian Medicines Agency on Saturday night and that, while there is no conclusion that there’s a link to the AstraZeneca vaccine, the decision to suspend the vaccine programme came from “an abundance of caution”.
He told Irish broadcaster RTÉ that there have been no reports of clotting events in Ireland similar to those seen in Norway and that there should still be full confidence in the vaccine programme.
The decision to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine was based on new information from Norway that emerged late last night. This is a precautionary step. The National Immunisation Advisory Comm meets again this morning and we’ll provide an update after that
— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) March 14, 2021
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.View original tweet on Twitter
Dr Glynn added that he hoped there will be more “reassuring data” this week and that the programme can restart.
“It may be nothing, we may be overreacting and I sincerely hope that in a week’s time we are accused of being overcautious,” he said.
In a statement to RTÉ, AstraZeneca said that an analysis of safety data covering more than 17 million doses of the vaccine administered has shown no evidence of an increased risk of the conditions concerned, and that no trends or patterns were observed in clinical trials.
“In fact, the reported numbers of these types of events for Covid-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca are not greater than the number that would have occurred naturally in the unvaccinated population,” said a spokesperson.
“A careful review of all available safety data including these events is ongoing and AstraZeneca is committed to sharing information without delay.”
Vaccine disruption ‘undesirable’
Prof Adam Finn, a member of the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), warned that, given evidence of the vaccine’s “real-world effectiveness”, a “stop-start approach” to the vaccine programme needed to be considered carefully.
“If clear evidence of serious or life threatening side-effects emerges that will have important consequences,” he said.
“However so far it hasn’t and it’s highly undesirable to disrupt a complex and urgent programme every time people develop illnesses after receiving vaccine that may be coincidental and not causally related.”
Last week, after Iceland, Norway and Denmark suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca, the MHRA said people should continue to get vaccinated.
“Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon. More than 11 million doses of the Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine have now been administered across the UK,” said Phil Bryan of the MHRA.
“People should still go and get their Covid-19 vaccine when asked to do so.”
The Public Health Agency in NI said it would “closely monitor” the situation.
“From our perspective the vaccine is safe and we’re continuing to use it,” said Dr Stephen Bergin, interim Director of Public Health.
“We’ve had good experience over the last three months now, we’ve had over 600,000 people vaccinated, not all of course with this particular vaccine.”