Czechia: Vaccinations with AstraZeneca to continue, despite safety concerns

Photo: ČTK/Miroslav Chaloupka

Czech Health Minister Jan Blatný on Monday defended the decision to continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca in the face of suspensions across Europe. The health minister, who has been stressing the need to push ahead with vaccinations in view of the fast spread of the epidemic, argued that no causal link between the vaccine and blood clot problems had been established to date and the Czech Institute for Drug Control considers the vaccine safe. 

What started out as isolated concerns regarding a given batch of AstraZeneca acquired new proportions in the past 24 hours as Germany, Italy, France and Spain joined four other European states in their decision to suspend the use of AstraZeneca pending a decision by the European Medicines Agency on whether the new information that has emerged will affect the authorization of the vaccine.

The agency said in a statement on Monday that it remains of the view that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects, however further consultations are expected in the coming hours.

Health Minister Jan Blatný said that for the time being he considers this stand sufficiently reassuring:

Jan Blatný,  photo: archive of the Office of Czech Government

“For the time being no causal link between the vaccine and blood clot problems has been confirmed. The vaccine’s benefits in the fight against Covid are proven beyond doubt and we see no reason to halt vaccinations at this point. The concerns are now being addressed by the European Medicines Agency and closely followed by the Czech health authorities. If there is any change in EMA’s stand the public will be informed immediately.”

In the Czech Republic the vaccine has so far been administered to 130 thousand people, mostly seniors. Due to the fact that it can be stored and transported at a temperature of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius it is being used, almost exclusively, by GPs. The president of the Association of General Practitioners, Petr Šonka, says that while he personally trusts the Czech Institute for Drug Control, some patients no longer want the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Of course the information surrounding the vaccine has raised mistrust to some extent, and yes, there are now some people who refuse to have this vaccine. We do our best to explain the facts and if they are still sceptical they are perfectly entitled to refuse. They can wait for some other vaccine to become available. But at the present time people are not in a position to choose what vaccine they will get.”

So far no significant problems have been reported in this country in connection with the AstraZeneca vaccine and the main problem that GPs currently have is that they lack enough vaccines to meet demand. With AstraZeneca having warned of a fall out in deliveries the situation is likely to get even worse. According to Health Minister Blatný in March the Czech Republic will only get 120, 000 vaccines of the 200,000 promised. At present the country is vaccinating with PfizerBiontech, AstraZeneca and to a lesser extent Moderna. The first vaccines from Johnson & Johnson should arrive in the Czech Republic by the end of April.