CNN/GNA – A growing number of European countries have halted AstraZeneca vaccinations over reports of a small number of patients developing blood clots after receiving the shot, throwing yet another wrench into the continent’s already struggling inoculation efforts.

Global health and medicines watchdogs, including the World Health Organization (WHO), Public Health England and the European Medicines Agency (EMA), have said there is no evidence of a link between the vaccine and the blood clots. Many experts have pointed out the fact that the number of incidents involving blood clots in people already vaccinated with the shot — fewer than 40 in 17 million — is lower than it would be expected in general population.

“The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects,” the EMA said in a statement yesterday.

But these assurances from health bodies, as well as AstraZeneca itself, have done little to dispel the worries. France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain and around a dozen other countries have now halted AstraZeneca vaccinations, although they all stressed this was a precautionary step.

The French Health Minister Olivier Véran tried to reassure people who have received the shot in the past, stressing they “are not in danger.”

The wave of suspensions across Europe has now triggered new reviews by the WHO and the EMA. WHO’s vaccine safety experts are meeting today to address the issue and the EMA said its safety committee will also review the data today. It has also called an extraordinary meeting on Thursday.

But even if the watchdogs fully endorse the vaccine once again, the damage might have been done.

In some European countries, the shot has already been seen as a ‘second-class vaccine’ because of its slightly lower efficacy rates compared to its competitors and because some countries initially decided not to offer the vaccine to older people, citing a lack of data. The ugly spat between the UK and the EU over the supplies of the vaccine didn’t help to boost its reputation either.

The potential knock-on effect of this episode on vaccine hesitancy is also worrying on a global level. The AstraZeneca shot is a key piece in the worldwide vaccination master plan because it’s cheaper and easier to distribute than some rivals.

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