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COVID-19: WHO and European Medicines Agency to meet on AstraZeneca vaccine

Agency chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told journalists that WHO’s Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has been reviewing available data on the vaccine and will meet with the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Tuesday.

Germany, France Italy and Spain have become the latest countries to temporarily halt use of the shot, following reports of blood clots in people who received the vaccine from two batches produced in Europe.

“This does not necessarily mean these events are linked to vaccination, but it’s routine practice to investigate them, and it shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place”, Tedros said.

Dr. Mariângela Simão, a WHO Assistant Secretary-General, said the agency is working very closely with the EMA, and with national regulatory authorities in Europe and other regions, in assessing the adverse effects of the AstraZeneca vaccine and all other vaccines.

WHO has not received reports about “thrombo-embolic events” in other parts of the world, she added.

Tedros stressed that “the greatest threat” most countries face now is lack of access to vaccines, saying he receives calls from leaders worldwide “almost every day” asking when their nations will receive doses through the COVAX initiative.

Syrian war remembrance

The ongoing conflict in Syria has brought the country’s once highly-effective health system “to its knees”, Tedros said in acknowledging the 10th anniversary of the crisis.

WHO and its partners continue to deliver services and supplies, protect public health and support a network of more than 1,700 health facilities.

Tedros pointed out that tragically, Syria is not an isolated case.

“Syria is one of many crises around the world, from Myanmar to Yemen and Tigray in Ethiopia, where millions of people have been denied access to essential health services, and where health facilities have been destroyed and health workers have been attacked and intimidated. This must stop”, he said.

No to ‘vaccination passports’

While WHO is against so-called COVID-19 “vaccination passports”, the agency does support digitalization of health information, describing it as “a potential way forward” to better primary health care.

Many countries provide paper records for vaccinations, for example to show children have received routine immunizations, but these can be lost, destroyed or damaged.  Digitalization would safeguard this information.

Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO Executive Director, said e-certification of COVID-19 vaccines would be useful for Governments to manage registration of vaccination in their countries, while also promoting better monitoring of vaccine batches and coverage.

But Dr. Ryan cautioned against using digital certification of vaccinations, for example, for allowing a person to travel, or to enroll in university. 

He recalled that WHO’s Emergency Committee has recommended that currently, there is no justification for vaccine certification for international travel as vaccines are not widely available nor equitably distributed.

“We have to be exceptionally careful because right now we are dealing with a tremendously iniquitous situation in the world, where the likelihood of being offered, or getting, a vaccine is very much to do with the country you live in; very much to do with level of wealth, the level of influence, that you or your Government has on global markets,” Dr. Ryan said.
 

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