It was nothing short of a miracle when it became clear that scientists had developed several effective vaccines against Covid-19 in less than a year. Announcements last week from European Union and British drug regulators finding a possible link between AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 shot and rare blood clots, however, have been a real low point in the pandemic.
This isn’t only because developed countries, like those in Western Europe, had purchased a large number of AstraZeneca doses to dig their way out of the pandemic but, more consequentially, because so much of the developing world was relying on this one vaccine to do the same. The double blow is that a picture is emerging that the AstraZeneca vaccine — which appears to have caused a very rare, sometimes fatal, condition of severe clotting with low blood platelet counts — may be affecting younger adults more than the elderly. Developing countries, in general, have significantly younger populations than their wealthier counterparts.
And to add insult to injury, just as Africa was pivoting toward the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, US medicines regulators on Tuesday paused use of the J&J shot across the country as well, after just six cases of the same clotting symptoms were reported among nearly 7 million people who had been given the vaccine. One of those cases was fatal. The company itself paused its rollout across Europe. The African Union had already ordered up to 220 million doses of the J&J shots to be shared among its 55 states in the third quarter of this year. That’s on top of any shots it may get through the COVAX scheme. A link between the rare blood clots and J&J’s vaccine has not been officially confirmed, but US officials want to pause it and use alternative shots while they work out if there is indeed a connection, and if so, how prevalent it might be. Europe is waiting to see what an investigation finds.