Some countries especially from the European Union have temporarily suspended the administration of the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine due to cases of blood clots detected in people who took the jab. This has raised concerns in countries that have taken delivery of the vaccines and have commenced deployment.
Denmark, Iceland, and Norway were among the countries that earlier suspended the use of the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine. Denmark was the first country to announce a two-week suspension. Iceland and Norway followed but failed to state how long their suspensions would last.
Concerns have been raised for the European Union’s medicines regulator to investigate whether the blood clots could be linked to the vaccine shots.
The Danish Health Minister, Magnus Heunicke, has explained that the pause was a “precautionary measure,” and it was not possible yet to conclude.
“We act early, it needs to be thoroughly investigated,” he said in a tweet while stressing that the decision was temporary.
Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have also suspended their rollouts a few days ago citing similar reasons for blood clots. This has caused many to question the safety of Ghanaians and have raised concerns over whether the Food and Drugs Authority and the Ghana Health Service did due diligence before rolling out the vaccines.
Should Ghanaians be scared?
Fact-Check Ghana spoke with the Ghana Health Service (GHS) regarding the concerns raised following the extent of suspensions across Europe.
Manager of Expanded Programme on Immunisation at the GHS, Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, allayed fears increasing among the citizenry, noting that to date the countries that have suspended the jab have not established any causal link between the vaccine and the clots.
“There were some people who had developed clots after vaccination but that doesn’t mean the vaccine led to that. If you read the documents and the output from other places, there is no link. In fact, they have even mentioned that they are doing that for extra caution,” he said.
Dr Amponsa-Achiano, therefore, described the suspension as premature as it sends negative signals.
“Covid-19 itself can cause blood clot so what are we talking about? So if your chances of getting Covid is very high compared to if you are vaccinated, you can also get clots.
“Ghana for instance we are not even scared at all. First of all, we need to show what is called a baseline. Before the vaccines came, people had clots. With the advent of vaccines, people still have clots. So what you need to do is to check whether the baseline is totally different from the after effect and it appears that there is no difference,” he said.
He added that in the clinical trials, the incidence of clots in the general population was even higher than those even in the vaccinated population.
“In Ghana, we haven’t even discovered anything at all. But we are still monitoring,” Dr. Amponsa-Achiano said.
The FDA’s role in ensuring the deployment of safe vaccines
When Ghana took delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine, there were initial fears of the safety of the vaccine and its side effects.
However, President Akufo-Addo assured Ghanaians of its safety of the dose in his address on February 28, 2021, adding that the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) “has certified the safe use of the vaccine”. This raised questions among many who were asking exactly how the FDA certified the safety of the vaccines.
Dr Amponsa-Achiano has explained how the FDA’s role ensured the safety of the vaccines.
“The FDA doesn’t do clinical trials but rather carries a microbiology test which is to review all the documents from the clinical trials done during production [of a vaccine] to convince themselves that all the vaccines are safe and likely to do all it is supposed to do — that is the efficacy, and once we are using it for the general population we prefer the term effectiveness before we will use them.
“That is why we have only two vaccines. They are the ones that the dossiers have been certified. Publishing the findings of the microbiology test is not the procedure of the FDA. So once they give us certificates of release, we roll out,” he said.
FDA debunks rumours of reported blood clot cases in Ghana
Meanwhile, the FDA says the country has not recorded any case of blood clots from its Covid-19 vaccination exercise. It says even though vaccines and medicines tend to have some side effects, no serious case has been recorded in the country.
It explains that the assurance is from its Joint Covid-19 Vaccine Safety Review Committee which has monitored all adverse reports from the vaccines.
“The FDA would like to reassure the public that it is closely monitoring this situation locally and to date, no events of blood clots linked to the COVID-19 vaccine have been reported amongst those who have been vaccinated in Ghana.”
The Authority has assured the public of its continuous monitoring of the vaccination exercise to ensure public health and safety. This was contained in a press statement issued on Tuesday, March 16, 2021.
WHO debunks causal link between blood clots and AstraZeneca
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) says there is no evidence that incidents involving blood clots are caused by the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
In a statement, the WHO said it was reviewing reports relating to the jab, but vaccination campaigns needed to continue.
“As soon as WHO has gained a full understanding of these events, the findings and any unlikely changes to current recommendations will be immediately communicated to the public,” the statement said.
From the information gathered so far, Fact-Check Ghana can confirm there is no evidence of AstraZeneca vaccine causing blood clots and the Ghanaian public are safe to take the jab.
This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.