Health Highlights: March 15, 2021

AstraZeneca Says Its COVID-19 Vaccine is Safe, Despite Reports of Deadly Clots

There is no scientific evidence linking the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to recent deaths from blood clots, the company said Sunday after a number of European nations suspended use of the vaccine.

On Sunday, Ireland and the Netherlands joined at least 10 other countries in suspending use of the vaccine — either disposing of specific batches or halting all shots with the product — as a precautionary measure while public health authorities investigate the blood clot deaths or other “thrombotic events,” the Washington Post reported.

“We can’t allow any doubts about the vaccine,” Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said Sunday. “We have to make sure everything is right, so it is wise to pause for now.”

In a statement, AstraZeneca said 17 million people have so far received its vaccine and there have only been 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis and 22 pulmonary embolisms, the Post reported.

“This is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar across other licensed COVID-19 vaccines,” the company said. It also said that the number of thrombotic events in the vaccine’s clinical trials was actually “lower in the vaccinated group.”

“The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases and we are going beyond the standard practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety,” AstraZeneca’s chief medical officer Ann Taylor said, the Post reported.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed with researchers from Oxford University, has been heavily used in Britain, which is leading Europe’s immunization efforts, the Post said.

“I am hoping to be called for a vaccine myself in the next couple of weeks and if it’s AstraZeneca I will happily take it in my arm,” Policing Minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News.

Trump Should Urge More Followers to Get COVID-19 Vaccination: Fauci

Former U.S. President Donald Trump should use his popularity among Republicans to convince more of his followers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday during interviews on morning news shows.

The nation’s top infectious diseases expert noted that Trump supporters are more likely to refuse COVID-19 vaccines, and emphasized that politics need to be separated from “common sense, no-brainer” public health measures, the Associated Press reported.

Having Trump use his “incredible influence” would be a “game changer” for U.S. vaccination efforts, according to Fauci.

Trump has urged people to get vaccinated in the past. But he hasn’t been among former presidents and other public officials who have been vaccinated on camera to encourage others to get the shot. It was revealed only recently that he was vaccinated in private at the White House before leaving office in January.

There was no immediate comment from his office Sunday, the AP reported.

Polls have shown Republicans among demographic groups who express greater skepticism about the safety of the vaccine.

“What is the problem here? This is a vaccine that is going to be lifesaving for millions of people,” Fauci said on NBC‘s “Meet the Press.”

“I mean, I just can’t comprehend what the reason for that is when you have a vaccine that’s 94-95% effective and it is very safe,” Fauci added. “I just don’t get it.”

Ebola Outbreak Likely Triggered by Survivor

The current Ebola outbreak in Guinea was likely started by a person who survived a previous outbreak, researchers report.

Genetic investigation suggests that the person was infected but survived West Africa’s 2014-16 epidemic, carried the virus for at least five years and then transmitted it via semen to a sex partner, The New York Times reported.

The findings shocked the researchers. Previously, 500 days was the longest the Ebola virus had been known to persist in a survivor.

“It’s a stunner,” Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research, told the Times. “This is an extraordinary phenomenon.”

“We have no idea how often this may be happening,” Schaffner said. “Some studies are underway. As you can imagine, it’s not easy to study hiding viruses in immunologically privileged sites, like the testicles, the eye and, rarely, the central nervous system. Those are not accessible places for easy study.”

The current outbreak in Guinea was declared early this year and has infected at least 18 people and killed nine. The 2014-16 outbreak in West Africa infected more than 28,000 people and killed more than 11,000. Some of the survivors of that epidemic are shunned, and the finding that some survivors may be infectious is likely to worsen that situation, the Times reported.

The new research also means that other outbreaks in the region assumed to have started with transmission from animals may actually have been triggered by survivors with undiagnosed, lingering infections.

Schaffner said that one possible solution may be “to vaccinate much of equatorial Africa” against Ebola even where there is no outbreak. Effective vaccines are available, one made by Merck and another by Johnson & Johnson, but so far they have generally been used only in response to outbreaks, the Times reported.

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