Questions abound over AstraZeneca's vaccine withdrawal – What the experts say

"Now it doesn't make sense to use because it hasn't been updated, it had other features, it didn't want deep freezing and it helped a lot of people" says Professor of Epidemiology Theodora Psaltopoulou


Questions are mounting over AstraZeneca's vaccine withdrawal, with experts being asked to entertain the public's reasonable concerns by reigniting skepticism about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic and in general.

The company's vaccine emerged among others as a lifeline to combat it Covid-19 which caused the deaths of millions of people, but was quickly faced with complaints of serious side effects caused by its administration.

Although the company maintains that the reason for withdrawing the vaccine is purely commercial, the decision comes as the pharmaceutical giant has been sued in a class-action lawsuit alleging death and serious side effects in dozens of cases.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on May 7 that the vaccine is no longer licensed, with the Commission stating that it is not unusual for medicines or vaccines to be withdrawn from marketing authorization for the aforementioned reasons.

On the subject, the professor of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Theodora Psaltopoulou, spoke on "MEGA Weekend":

“The pandemic caused the largest reduction in life expectancy in the Western world by 1,5 – 2 years since World War II, so it was an emergency. The AstraZeneca vaccine is just as effective as other vaccines, we don't worry about whether we are covered for serious disease," he noted.

He added: "As for the side effects, they concern the 2-3 weeks after the vaccination and not now. All that time has now passed. The side effects were rare and in many cases fatal as it happened in our country and in the world," he said initially.

Experts insist AstraZeneca's vaccine was rightly withdrawn as it was a different technology and has not been updated

Afterwards, Mrs. Psaltopoulou said that "in Greece there is a large number of citizens who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca. Pfizer and Moderna are mRNA vaccines while AstraZeneca is not mRNA. The corona virus itself causes 10% - when you were ill - severe thrombosis. Even people who have long Covid have a chance of thrombosis 6 – 9 months after the disease”.

"Now it makes no sense to use because it hasn't been updated like the other vaccines. This vaccine had other characteristics, it didn't need deep freezing, it was fast and it helped a lot of people," he concluded.

Lytras: "The rare side effect was recognized early"

EODY epidemiologist Theodoros Lytras, commenting on the latest developments in X, emphasizes that "as early as April 7, 2021, the EMA highlighted as a possible very rare side effect of the AZ vaccine what later became known as VITT syndrome (Vaccine-induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia)".

He then stated that "the recognition of such a rare side effect is a huge success of pharmacovigilance, which proves that it works and ensures the safety of vaccines".

When asked why we didn't see this in the studies, he answered “because the original study of the AZ vaccine included ~25.000 people, so it wouldn't have been able to detect such a rare side effect.

Pagoni: "Well retired"

Regarding the decision to withdraw the vaccine, the president of EINAP, Matina Pagoni, said speaking to MEGA that the company did the right thing and then explained:

"First he withdrew it for commercial reasons because there is no upgrade for the new strains in the vaccine. Now there is no problem. The side effects are from the 3rd, 4th week after the dose," he said, reassuring the people who had received the vaccine.

As for the fact of the initial decision to release it, Ms. Pagoni said that the studies had proven that it could be released, adding at the same time that "we emphasized that vaccines and drugs have side effects but the benefits are very great."

"Vaccines and medicines have side effects but the benefits are very great" says Pagoni

Majorkinis: "The decision is irrelevant to the side effects"

The withdrawal decision is not related to the side effects, according to Professor of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Gikas Majorkinis.

“It is an issue that has been discussed since 2021. Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia is a very rare side effect that was associated with this particular vaccine and also with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, that is, vaccines that had adenovirus. The withdrawal is related to the fact that the vaccine was produced to deal with the pandemic and is no longer effective because they never intended to update it to deal with the next waves. The company withdrew its license by itself not by the Regulatory Agency,” he noted.

"This side effect is extremely rare. This vaccine has not been produced for many years. A vaccine is licensed as long as it is effective. And other vaccines have been withdrawn because they are not effective. The vaccine in question was made to go around the world. It was the only one that didn't need a deep freeze and because of that it managed to go where no one else could. It was thus delivered to hard-to-reach areas of the developing world more easily and cheaply. That is why the WHO supported it because this vaccine reached Africa, India and areas where other vaccines could not reach. All vaccines have side effects," added Mr. Majorkinis.

As Mr. Majorkinis has already emphasized: "I say responsibly that those who did not manifest the side effect within the first 30 days have absolutely nothing to fear. We are 10 times more likely to die in an accident on our way to work than from side effects of this particular drug. After all, all vaccines have a risk of a serious side effect, but a risk of a very small statistical order, specifically of the order of 1 in 100.000. The drugs we take every day to treat a simple headache have a much higher statistical risk of having a serious side effect."

"It's not effective because they never intended to update it to deal with the next waves" emphasizes Majorkinis

Vassilakopoulos: "It was a different technology"

For his part, Theodoros Vasilakopoulos, professor of Pulmonology and Intensive Care, noted that "no one is in danger at the moment. Any extremely minimal risk existed for the first 30 days after dosing. That is, anyone who did not develop a complication in the first 30 days following the administration does not have the slightest risk today, nor is he going to have any risk in the future."

He reiterated that the reasons for the withdrawal were commercial: “At the moment there is tremendous availability of mRNA vaccines that are of a different technology than AstraZeneca. mRNA vaccines do not show the extremely rare complication of thrombosis."

He then explained that "because of this extremely rare complication, AstraZeneca has not updated the vaccine to deal with the strains of the virus that we have today and so this vaccine is effective against the original strain of the virus and therefore will not be effective today." . So it has no commercial interest."

Manolopoulos: "Any risk concerned the first weeks"

For his part, the president of the EOF, Evangelos Manolopoulos, has explained speaking to ERT that "for our country the withdrawal of the vaccine means absolutely nothing, because the vaccine was used for a short time and especially during the first period of the pandemic. In Greece, it has ceased to be used for years and was essentially overcome due to the new coronavirus vaccines."

Regarding side effects, he noted: "It is very rare for it to cause blood clots in people with thrombocytopenia, that is, with very low white blood cells and platelets," and added, "Any risk of side effects was for the first two to three weeks, after that there is no side effect." ».

"I had 2 blood clots 12 days after the vaccination"

Alexandros Metaxakis, who was vaccinated during the coronavirus pandemic with AstraZeneca's vaccine, is one of the people who developed the rare side effect of blood clots and is the first Greek to file a lawsuit against the company.

“My adventure started about 12 days after my vaccination, I suffered the first blood clot in my left limb, in the central artery. It took a long surgery to get the leg back on. At first I went into surgery for amputation but then everything went well. "Four days later, a second blood clot appeared during the exam," he says.

Mr. Metaxakis still needed a long surgery: "I had taken the first dose of AstraZeneca. I had not been told about any side effects of the vaccine. Now I'm fine, and we're all fine too."

His adventure lasted nine months, while he has already filed a lawsuit against the company and the Greek government, which will be heard on October 10.

In Greece, according to Athina Linou, professor of Epidemiology, three deaths of women have been recorded and the incidence of complications is estimated at over a hundred. It is noted that approximately 400.000 doses of the vaccine were administered.