Spain on March 16 joined the list of countries that have suspended the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, marketed in India under the brand Covishied, after reports of isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet count in some of the nations.
France, Germany and Italy on March 15 said that they would hit pause on AstraZeneca shots, citing reported serious side-effects.
Over the last week, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Bulgaria, Ireland, Netherlands, Indonesia and Portugal and Slovenia have also halted the use of the vaccine.
Pharma wrap | AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine on hold in Europe, what does it mean for India?
Meanwhile, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Luxembourg have suspended a particular batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been delivered to 17 countries and included one million vaccines.
The Democratic Republic of Congo, due to start administering the vaccine, postponed its campaign citing "precautionary measures". Similarly, Venezuela's vice-president also said the country would not approve the AstraZeneca vaccine for use, citing "complications" those inoculated had experienced.
Read: Covaxin or Covishield? What you should know about each COVID-19 vaccine
Why countries are halting the AstraZeneca vaccine
Denmark was the first country to halt the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after reports of blood clots in some people, including one person who developed multiple clots and died 10 days after receiving at least one dose.
The health authorities, however, said "it cannot be concluded whether there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots.”
Announcing its decision to suspend the vaccine, Norwegian authorities said four people under age 50 who had gotten the AstraZeneca vaccine had an unusually low number of blood platelets.
Blood clots can travel through the body and cause heart attacks, strokes and deadly blockages in the lungs.
Read: Germany, Italy, France suspend AstraZeneca shots amid safety fears, disrupting EU vaccinations
In response to the suspensions, AstraZeneca said it had carefully reviewed the data on 17 million people who received doses across Europe and found there were 37 cases of people who developed blood clots.
It said there was “no evidence of an increased risk” of blood clots in any age group or gender in any country.
“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.
What does WHO say?
The World Health Organization and the European Medicines Agency have insisted the shot is safe and there is no link between the vaccine and reported blood clots.
"We do not want people to panic and we would, for the time being, recommend that countries continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca," WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on March 15.
Read | No evidence of link between COVID-19 vaccine, blood clots: AstraZeneca
"So far, we do not find an association between these events and the vaccine," she added.
WHO safety experts are expected to meet on March 16 to discuss data from AstraZeneca vaccinations.
What is India planning to do about it?
The government has begun a deeper review of post-vaccination side effects and deaths although no cases of blood clots have been reported so far. "All deaths and hospitalisations following immunisation are going to be re-looked at," said Dr NK Arora, member of the National Task Force on COVID-19.
He said the AstraZeneca vaccine will not be singled out here. "We are reviewing all the deaths and hospitalisations irrespective of the vaccine received. Very soon we will know more about the situation," he added.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, which is being produced by the Serum Institute of India, is part of the COVID-19 vaccination drive in India. Covishield and Bharat Biotech's Covaxin are being administered in India as part of the vaccination drive.Click here for Moneycontrol's full coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak