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AstraZeneca ‘bombshell’ may delay Portugal’s vaccine programme, admits PM

Prime minister António Costa has reacted to the ‘bombshell’ news that there is in fact a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots “observed after its administration”, warning that this could affect Portugal’s vaccination programme.

The issue is that Portugal has reserved 6.9 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab. 

It’s the vaccine authorities expected to roll-out the most. 

It is the vaccine, for example, being offered right now to the nation’s teachers.

But following continuing incidences of blood clots – and deaths – throughout Europe, the head of ‘Health Threats and Vaccine Strategy’ at European Medicines Agency has finally admitted that “it is clear there exists a link with the vaccine”.

Marco Cavaleri’s cataclysmic revelations came in an interview published today in Italian newspaper Il Messaggero.

He stressed “what causes this reaction, we still don’t know”.

Reactions however are now falling over themselves throughout Europe. While authorities in the UK are said to be “pondering whether to recommend that AstraZeneca not be administered to younger age groups”, Portugal is clearly ‘waiting to see what the rest of Europe decides’.

The bottom line appears to be that EMA will have an official ‘strategy’, possibly by tomorrow evening. 

Say reports, agency chiefs are now ‘holding a review’ and “will communicate and hold a press briefing as soon as the review is finalised. This is currently expected tomorrow (Wednesday, April 7) or on Thursday, April 8”.

(See update below: the World Health Organisation has held a press conference seemingly trashing the EMA line)

Prime minister Costa’s reaction at a press conference today was that the situation could well represent yet another hitch in a vaccine procurement process that has already been “strongly compromised” by production capacity.

The worst of this latest hiatus is that, as of this moment there are no alternative vaccines to “immediately substitute those of AstraZeneca” if the need arises.

It’s a mess, and Mr Costa has used a colloquial word in Portuguese to describe it as such.

What no story so far seems to allude to is that no matter how many cases of clotting can be eventually linked to administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the company itself cannot be held liable. All the vaccines so far in use around the world are approved solely on the basis that they are needed for a health emergency. As such they haven’t been through all the usual steps; long-term consequences of their administration are still far from known, and this is why the pharmaceutical companies have all insisted on having clauses that free them from liability in the case of ‘unintentional incidents’ further down the line (click here).

Costa’s immediate concern is spread of contagions through schools

The prime minister’s immediate concern today however is closer to home. With the Tuesday bulletin showing a new spike in the number of new cases (see below), he has been described as “worried over the speed of transmission of Covid-19 infections in schools, associated with the British variant”.

The ‘solution’ is to reinforce testing and ‘widen’ police vigilance at the entrances/ exits of school premises.

According to Lusa, latest data indicates “an increase in contagions among children, overwhelmingly since schools reopened on March 15”.

Said Mr Costa: “We’re accompanying the situation very closely. As you will remember, there was testing of all teaching and non-teaching staff before the reopening of creches, pre-schools and primary schools – and to reinforce the degree of protection, a massive vaccination of all school staff is underway…”

But, the latest data has shown that due to the British variant’s high transmissibility, whenever a new case is flagged and generalised tests are then performed “we are straight away finding other cases”

As a result, the moment a case is identified concerning a child in a school, the respective families have to be tested. “We have to widen the scope of vigilance because this variant is very significantly increasing the risks of transmission”, said the prime minister.

As for today’s ‘numbers’: new cases are up significantly from yesterday, principally in the areas of Lisbon and the north.

Deaths however remain ‘low’: just two in the last 24-hours. And hospital numbers have fallen by 32 to 504 nationally, of which 113 people are in intensive care units.

Looking at the various regions, Lisbon registered +317 new cases, and the only (2) deaths; the north +273 new cases; the centre +140; Alentejo +57; Algarve +18.

The archipelagos of Madeira and Azores are both registering new cases in the 30s (+37 for the Azores, +32 for Madeira).

The last 24-hours have seen +894 ‘recoveries’, meaning the number of new cases is just below the number of recent recoveries.

UPDATE:

Just to confuse the confusion a little bit further, the World Health Organisation has held a press conference of its own since Il Messaggero’s revelations seemingly trashing the link between AstraZeneca and blood clots.

Said Rogério Gaspar for the WHO: “At this point in time there is no relationship between the vaccine of AstraZeneca and cases of thrombosis”.

The AstraZeneca vaccine was recently renamed Vaxzevria.

This ‘mess’ (or ‘berbicacho’ as Mr Costa has called it) has still some way to go.

The Resident received an email from a ‘reader’ in the United States after this article came out. The reader said she was an ICU nurse in Michigan. She said we had not mentioned the sex or ages of people said to have suffered blood clots – nor the numbers (which is because we didn’t have this data to hand at the time). According to this reader, the most liable for clotting with AstraZeneca will be middle-aged women on the pill, particularly if they smoke and are overweight. She added: “Tomorrow why don’t you report about Michigan and nearly 300 people becoming infected though fully vaccinated after 14 days and some deaths. They only use Pfizer and some Moderna. Also the same sinus clots have been found in Pfizer but without the platelet drop.”

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com