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AstraZeneca’s touting COVID vaccine safety record, but countries are still dropping out—and supply problems persist

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has hit one pothole after another—supply shortfalls, reports of blood clots and countries suspending usage, one by one.

And the rough ride isn’t over yet. Even as the company publicly backed its shot, citing real-world data in 17 million recipients, more countries halted their campaigns. Meanwhile, AstraZeneca was forced to dial back its delivery plans in Europe yet again, this time to 100 million doses for the first half of this year—200 million fewer than originally promised.

In a release over the weekend, the drugmaker said it had reviewed data from around the world and found “no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis or thrombocytopenia, in any defined age group, gender, batch or in any particular country.”

As of March 8, there had been 15 reports of deep vein thrombosis and 22 reports of pulmonary embolism, a number lower than would be typically expected among the 17 million people who have received the shot, the company said.

“The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases, and we are going beyond the standard practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety,” AstraZeneca chief medical officer Ann Taylor said in a statement.

Meanwhile, officials in Norway said three health workers who received the shot were being treated for bleeding, blood clots and a low platelet count, Reuters reports. Afterward, Ireland halted its use of the shot. In Italy, prosecutors seized one batch of the vaccine to investigate the death of a man after vaccination, according to the news service.

On Monday, Germany suspended its use of the shot, according to the Associated Press. France followed a short time after.

Plus, the company hasn’t yet solved its supply problem. Last week, AstraZeneca dramatically cut its second-quarter delivery target for Europe—to 70 million doses from 180 million doses. Back in February, a spokesperson said the company would source its global supply chain for about half of the 180 million doses scheduled to be sent to Europe during the second quarter. 

Now, the company says it’s aiming to deliver 100 million doses during the first half of the year, with 30 million coming in the first quarter. With the new target, AZ expects to ship 70 million doses to Europe from April to June. The company previously aimed to ship 300 million doses during the first half of the year, Reuters reports.

In the U.S., officials have rejected requests to share its AstraZeneca vaccine doses that are stockpiled and ready for a potential FDA emergency authorization. There are fewer than 10 million doses in the stockpile, Bloomberg reports, citing sources.

Before Ireland and Germany stopped vaccinations with the AZ shot, several other European countries had paused using some or all doses. Denmark paused all vaccinations, while Austria and other countries paused usage of a specific batch that had been shipped around Europe. 

On Sunday, AZ said it had seen no confirmed quality issues in any batch distributed worldwide. AstraZeneca conducts more than 60 quality tests on the product, and independent labs run another 20 studies, the company said. No tests of any batch have “shown cause for concern.” 

AZ plans to keep an eye on the issue. The company also stressed that vaccination is crucial to defeat the pandemic. 

The whirlwind of headlines has helped cause a perception problem for the vaccine in Europe. A recent YouGov survey found that people in Europe were less receptive to the vaccine than people in the U.K., where the shot is a point of national pride. Many AZ doses are going unused, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.