BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Thailand delayed the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine scheduled to start on Friday (March 12) with its prime minister and Cabinet members taking the first shots, citing safety concerns after reports of blood clots in some vaccinated people in Europe.
The Asian nation is the first country outside of Europe suspending the use of the AstraZeneca shot, while several countries including Canada, Australia, the Philippines and South Korea said they would go ahead.
In a health ministry news conference, Dr Prasit Watanapa, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital, confirmed that the rollout would be delayed after a suspension of inoculations using the vaccine in Denmark, Norway and Iceland.
“AstraZeneca is still a good vaccine but with what has happened … the health ministry based on this advice would like to postpone the usage of the AstraZeneca vaccine momentarily,” said Mr Kiattiphum Wongjit, permanent secretary for the Public Health Ministry.
Thailand was in a position to suspend the rollout for safety investigations because it had brought under control a second wave of coronavirus cases through quarantines and border controls, he said.
AstraZeneca said on Thursday it had found no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis – marked by the formation of blood clots – in safety data of more than 10 million records, even when considering subgroups based on age, gender, production batch or country of use.
More than 11 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine have so far been administered across the United Kingdom.
Dr Yong Poonvorawan, a virology expert, told the news conference that the investigation would also check on whether any issues might be related to particular batches in Europe and said the vaccines supplied to Thailand were made in Asia.
Thailand has so far recorded just over 26,500 coronavirus infections and 85 fatalities in a population of 66.5 million.
New cases are now registering below 100 per day.
“This may reflect how much the decision makers in a country tolerate temporary uncertainty about vaccine safety and balance that against the vaccine’s undoubted benefits of protection from Covid-19,” said Dr Julie Leask, a public health professor at the University of Sydney, referring to varying government decisions.
Thailand’s overall vaccination strategy is heavily reliant on AstraZeneca, which will be produced locally by a company owned by the country’s king, with 61 million doses reserved for the Thai population.
However, the locally made AstraZeneca is not due to be ready until at least June, and Thailand last week began limited inoculations with imported doses of the Sinovac vaccine.
Thailand last week received 117,300 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the prime minister and his Cabinet had been scheduled to receive on Friday.
Austria said on Sunday it had stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.
It later said the batch, ABV5300, amounted to roughly one million doses in total and was sent to 17 European countries.
It is not immediately clear whether the same batch has been sent to other countries.
Read More: Thai PM, Cabinet cancel scheduled AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccinations after other countries suspend