Medicines agency: Suspending AstraZeneca vaccines would be drastic measure

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AstraZeneca. Source: AstraZeneca

Chief medical officer of the Estonian Agency of Medicines Alar Irs said at a press conference on Tuesday that fully suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Estonia would be a drastic measure. Estonia will keep using the vaccine.

Irs said that of the 530 notices made to the Agency of Medicines concerning side effects experienced by people after receiving coronavirus vaccines, 486 were about the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"There were three severe cases, one older man developed a retinal vein occlusion. Two people developed symptoms of the coronavirus 1.5 months after receiving the vaccine. Detailed links to the vaccine need to be investigated, however," he said.

Irs noted that there was also one death announcement resulting from the person falling and getting a head trauma, which in turn were caused by a high fever and loss of balance.

"The vaccine is thought to be the reason," he said.

"The AstraZeneca vaccine has been administered to close to 17 million people, two-thirds of them in the United Kingdom. Full suspension of vaccinations with AstraZeneca would be a drastic measure. The European Medicines Agency has said that the benefit of this vaccine definitely outweighs the damage," he said.

Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said Estonia will continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"No state has proof today that this vaccine is linked to the tragic cases. The vaccine is not used among certain at-risk groups but it is used in other cases," he said.

The minister noted that continued vaccination outweighs possible hypothetical risks.

"We need to take into consideration that vaccination has already saved tens of lives in Estonia and will save hundreds more in the long-term perspective," he said.

Kiik noted that the national expert committee on immunoprophylaxis will convene on Tuesday evening to discuss issues relating to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

British strain "dominant"

The Health Board said the spread of the British strain of the coronavirus is widespread and dominant in Estonia.

Based on the coronavirus strain sequencing results, the Health Board estimates that the prevalence of the British strain in Estonia may be about 70 percent as of last week.

Head of the Department of Infectious Diseases of the Agency Hanna Sepp, said: "The British strain is widespread and dominant. Its share has increased week by week."

The South African strain should also continue to be monitored, she said.

Infection rate is plateauing

According to the Health Board, the level of infection may increase to 2,000 cases a day over the next two weeks, but the impact of the restrictions is already being felt.

Estonia's infection rate - R - has remained at the same level as last week, 1.09. In Harju County, it is higher at 1.12 but in Ida-Viru County it has fallen to 0.95. If the rate is below 1, then the infection rate is no longer rising.

Tanel Kiik (Center) said the rapid rise in infection has now led to a gentle plateau but it remains to be seen what will happen in the coming weeks.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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