The World Health Organization has sought to calm fears amongst African officials about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine’s safety after several European nations halted their roll-outs over concerns the jab might cause blood clots in a few patients.
Dr Richard Mihigo, the WHO’s head of immunisation in Africa, said that he was worried that African countries would start losing faith in the product and emphasised that the vaccine is safe to use based on current evidence.
The AstraZeneca vaccine was hailed as a potential game-changer for the continent. It is cheap and can be stored and transported easily, making it effective in countries with limited health care infrastructure.
Some two dozen African countries have already been given thousands of vaccines under the United Nations-led Covax vaccine sharing scheme.
But after Denmark, Norway, Bulgaria, Iceland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia, and Cyprus paused their AstraZeneca vaccine campaigns earlier this month over blood clotting fears growing concerns in many African countries about the safety of mass AstraZeneca inoculation campaigns.
Earlier this week, the Democratic Republic of Congo became the first African nation to suspend the rollout of its 1.7m doses of the jab, which was due to start on Monday.
“As a precautionary measure, we decided to postpone the date for the launch of vaccination in the DRC,” said Health Minister Eteni Longondo.
The small island nation of Cape Verde also said it would wait for doubts about the vaccine to be cleared before authorising the use of 24,000 doses of AstraZeneca.
The Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC) in Addis Ababa said it reviewed its guidance on the AstraZeneca shot in an emergency meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine was seen to be safe and efficacious, and we would need to review the data. We should guide the response with strong science and evidence,” said Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong on Tuesday.
On Thursday, the European Medicines Agency is set to publish its findings on the vaccine’s safety.
Several other African governments have poured cold water on mounting fears at home. Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous nation, pushed forward with its rollout of 2.2m doses of the vaccine several days ago, stating that there were no health risks.
Senegal has also reassured its public, saying that “no major problem” has been observed in those who had been vaccinated.
A Senegalese health ministry spokesperson said they would launch a probe into concerns after the family of a 70-year-old man claimed that he suffered a stroke after being given the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Authorities in Uganda, Somalia and Nigeria have also said they believe the vaccine is safe to use.
The Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has said that the jab is safe and that no evidence exists of a higher risk of blood clots