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EU countries stop Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine roll-out as Kenya brushes off fears

The vaccine being rolled out in Kenya has been suspended wholly or in part in at least seven European countries even as Nairobi on Thursday sought to allay fears over its safety.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been linked to blood clots in some recipients in Denmark, Norway, Austria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Luxembourg.

According to international reports, a batch of shots has caused “serious cases of blood clots among vaccinated people” prompting the countries to halt it as the European Medicine Authority (EMA) launched investigations into the jab.

This came as Kenya’s Health ministry assured the public that so far no adverse side effects have been reported locally.

“I have not heard of any reports and we haven’t received any communication in that regard,” said Dr Patrick Amoth, the acting Health director-general. “We have not heard any cases of adverse reactions amongst our recipients.”

A recipient of the jab, Dr Amoth said he only experienced soreness at the site of injection after receiving his first dose last week, which wore off after 24 hours.

Dr Willis Akhwale, chair of the Covid-19 vaccine advisory task force, said there was no cause for alarm, noting that “suspension does not mean you have stopped.”

“Somebody may have had an underlying problem which might have been triggered by the vaccine. That doesn’t mean that the vaccine is bad,” said Dr Akhwale, noting that there is a system put in place to monitor any side effects.

Developed clots

Yesterday, Austrian authorities suspended the vaccine after two people developed clots, while Denmark temporarily halted its use for 14 days.

In Austria, the first person developed multiple thromboses, formation of blood clots within blood vessels, and died 10 days after vaccination, while another was hospitalised with pulmonary embolism, blockage in arteries in the lungs, but is now recovering. In Denmark, Søren Brostrøm, director of the National Board of Health, emphasised that they had not opted out of the AstraZeneca vaccine. “We are putting it on hold.” The use of the jab has also been paused in  Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, and Latvia.

The affected batch of one million doses was delivered to 17 EU countries, Austrian authorities said. The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca has already generated concerns over its efficacy in other countries.

In Germany, many of the vaccines developed by the firm are going unused due to worries that it is less effective against virus mutations. South Africa halted the rollout of the vaccine due to it being less effective against its variant.

But in Kenya, some of the healthcare workers who have received the jab say they have not experienced any major side effects from the drug.

Dr Andrew Odhiambo, a medical oncologist wrote on Instagram: “Sore left upper arm around injection site. Muscle aches and light-headedness all gone.”

Dr Mwita Nyamohanga Riro, an internist, posted on Facebook: “Malaise, lethargy, joint pains, headache 24 hours later after the jab … a complaint I hear regularly from my patients. Now I know.”

The vaccine, developed in partnership with Oxford University, is one of two approved against Covid-19 by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Side effects

“I got my Covid vaccine jab yesterday. I am yet to feel a thing worth reporting,” wrote Dr Ouma Oluga, the Chief Officer of Health at the Nairobi Metropolitan Services (NMS).

Dr Ombeva Malande, a vaccinologist, noted that the incidents being reported in Europe are part of phase four post-licensure monitoring, which is “totally normal.”

Kenya Medical Association (KMA) president Were Onyino, said that none of the side effects reported by its members had warranted hospitalisation.

Yesterday, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) in collaboration with the Health ministry announced that teachers aged 50 years and above in both public and private institutions will begin receiving the vaccination from Monday next week.

TSC boss Nancy Macharia said 41 teachers had died of Covid-19 since March last year. Separately, Chief of Defence Forces General Robert Kibochi received the Covid-19 jab at the Kahawa Garrison moments after launching the Kenya Defence Forces coronavirus vaccination exercise.

General Kibochi cautioned against laxity in following the Covid-19 safety protocols, especially with the country fighting the third wave of the pandemic.