S. Korea accelerates AstraZeneca vaccine rollout as EU regulator eases safety concerns

SEOUL-- South Korea is posed to speed up the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as part of its inoculation campaign as the European Union's medicines regulator assessed that there is no link to blood clots found in some recipients.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced Thursday (local time) that there is no evidence suggesting a correlation between the vaccine manufactured by British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca and Oxford University and reports of blood clots, and that the jab is "safe and effective."

The governmen will convene a meeting of health experts at 3 p.m. Saturday to conduct a final review over the safety of the vaccine as part of efforts to ease public anxiety about the vaccine.

The results of the closed-door discussion will be announced on Monday.

A number of European countries -- including France and Germany that have suspended the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine pending the outcome of investigation -- said they will soon resume vaccinations.

The EMA noted the vaccine may be associated with blood clots in some "very rare cases" as only a small number of cases were reported but said its benefits outweigh the risk of possible side effects.

"The benefits of the vaccine in combating the still widespread threat of COVID-19 (which itself results in clotting problems and may be fatal) continue to outweigh the risk of side effects," it said, concluding what it called its "preliminary review."

International regulators have also said there is no proven evidence that the shots are related to the blood clots. The World Health Organization said earlier the risk of hospitalization and death outweigh the risks of possible side effects.

The EU regulator's decision came as safety concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine have been simmering here as the country has reported two suspected cases of blood clots related to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

One of the patients died, with authorities saying the death is highly likely to have been caused by other underlying diseases.

A man in his 20s was reported to have suffered from blood clots after receiving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, the KDCA said. The man is in stable condition at a hospital.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said earlier that the country will proceed with the inoculation plan with the AstraZeneca vaccine, although it said it would closely monitor the EMA's assessment.

Amid safety concerns, the KDCA has reassured that AstraZeneca products are safe and promised to promptly inform the public of any suspected case of side effects.

Earlier, South Korea decided to expand the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to people age 65 and older to ramp up the nationwide vaccination campaign as new overseas studies showed its effectiveness.

An accumulated 659,475 people had been administered with their first shots as of midnight since late February, which accounts for 1.46 percent of the country's 52 million population, the KDCA said.

Of the total, 608,098 health care workers and patients at long-term care facilities received the first jabs of the two-dose vaccine regimen developed by AstraZeneca, the KDCA said.

AstraZeneca's vaccine is among the cheapest available and considered to be easier to transport and store than rivals, such as Pfizer's vaccine, which requires ultra-cold storage.

The authorities earlier said AstraZeneca vaccine doses for another 1.05 million people will arrive in the country in April under the World Health Organization's global vaccine COVAX Facility project.

On Friday, the country reported 441 more COVID-19 cases, with the number remaining in the 400s for the third straight day, the KDCA said. The total caseload increased to 97,757.

Source: Yonhap News Agency