Doses of vaccines rejected as countries fine-tune their inoculation campaigns will go to poor countries where possible to counter a “shocking imbalance” in distribution, international health officials said on Friday.
Authorities in Australia and Greece became the latest to recommend alternatives to the AstraZeneca vaccine for younger people over fears of possible very rare blood clots, while Hong Kong delayed deliveries.
Millions of doses of the AstraZeneca shot have been safely administered around the world but some governments have limited its use to older age groups as a precaution while cases of clotting are investigated.
The World Health Organization said most countries did not have anywhere near enough shots of any vaccine to cover health workers and others at high risk from exposure to the virus, which has killed almost 3 million people around the world.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said high income countries had on average vaccinated one in four people while in low income countries it was one in more than 500.
“There remains a shocking imbalance in the distribution of vaccines,” he told a press briefing on Friday.
Asked whether COVAX was negotiating for doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that had been shunned, GAVI alliance head Seth Berkley said the Anglo-Swedish company’s supply chain had “picked up”.
AstraZeneca said it was working with regulators “to understand the individual cases, epidemiology and possible mechanisms that could explain these extremely rare events”.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) received reports of 169 cases of the rare brain blood clot by early April, after 34 million doses had been administered, Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA’s safety committee, said this week.
Most of the cases reported had occurred in women under 60.
On Friday, the EMA said that if a causal relationship is confirmed or considered likely, regulatory action will be needed to minimise risk.
It also said it was looking into Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) shot over reports of blood clots. U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said there was nothing on reports on the J&J vaccine that is a red flag.
The AstraZeneca shot is by far the cheapest and most high-volume vaccine launched so far to curb the pandemic
Hong Kong Health Secretary Sophia Chan The government was considering buying a new type of vaccine that may offer better protection, she added.
The top health body in France, where vaccine hesitancy is high, recommended that those over 55 who had received a first dose of the AstraZeneca shot get a new-style messenger-RNA vaccine for the second one.
Two messenger RNA vaccines have been approved for use in France, one from Pfizer and BioNTech and another from Moderna.