Thailand's prime minister received a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca on Tuesday, as much of Asia shrugged off concerns about reports of blood clots in some recipients in Europe, saying that so far there is no evidence to link the two.
AstraZeneca has developed a manufacturing base in Asia, and the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker, has been contracted by the company to produce a billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations. Hundreds of millions more are to be manufactured this year in Australia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
“There are people who have concerns," Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said after he received the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine. "But we must believe doctors, believe in our medical professionals." Thailand last week was the first country outside Europe to temporarily suspend using the AstraZeneca vaccine. Indonesia followed on Monday, saying it was waiting for a full report from the World Health Organization regarding possible side effects.
But Thailand's health authorities decided to go ahead with AstraZeneca, with Prayuth and members of his Cabinet receiving the first shots.
A large number of European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine Monday over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame.
The EU's drug regulatory agency called a meeting for Thursday to review experts' findings on the AstraZeneca shot and to decide whether action needs to be taken.
Other countries in the Asian region said they would press ahead with vaccination programmes.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said his country would not suspend vaccinations. Australia has vaccinated about 200,000 people so far and plans to import and manufacture 70 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca.
“The government clearly, unequivocally, absolutely supports the AstraZeneca rollout, clearly, unequivocally, absolutely. And the reason why is very simple — it will help save lives and protect lives, and it's done so on the basis of the medical advice," Hunt told Parliament.
Australia's chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said there was no evidence so far that the vaccine causes blood clots.
"Blood clots happen, they happen in Australia fairly commonly," he said. "But, from my perspective, I do not see that there is any specific link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots, and I'm not alone in that opinion.” By far the largest user of the AstraZeneca vaccine is India.
India is using two vaccines — the AstraZeneca shot made by Serum Institute of India, and another one by Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech — to immunize its vast population.