BRITS should carry on taking the AstraZeneca vaccine with confidence and there are "no reasonable grounds" for its suspension by EU states, Dominic Raab said today.
The foreign secretary insisted scientists around the world, including at the European Medicines Agency, agree the jab is "safe" and said he "feels" for countries on the continent struggling with their rollouts.
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He issued the full-throated defence of the Oxford-invented shot after more than half of Member States including Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, temporarily stopped its use over blood clot fears.
Mr Raab said: "Different countries have different approaches but I can tell you crystal clear the UK regulator, the EU regulator, and the WHO all say that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and people should continue to take it.
"It is safe, people should get the vaccine. It has been very clear from the MHRA, the UK regulator, that the risks of taking the vaccine are no more than, in terms of for example blood clots, than the population at large.
"There is no extra risk on the evidence that we've seen, which is why they have authorised the vaccine and haven't taken any further action.
"We respect the process and procedures that some other countries may need to go through but the vaccine is safe and people should certainly continue to take it and to protect themselves and their friends and family."
The foreign secretary said other countries had different "trip wires for things that they need to check if they pick up on evidence or results" but the UK has some of the strongest protections in the world.
He added: “I’m speaking with my European colleagues all the time on these issues. We clearly disagree with their specific judgement on suspending the vaccine but respect their right to make their own decision.”
And he expressed concern over the EU's own shambolic rollout of vaccines, saying defeating Covid is a "common challenge" that will require high vaccination rates across the whole world.
He said: "I feel for the European countries. The vaccine rollout has gone well here, it's not going so well in other European countries.
"And so they want to get that rolled out, but they want to do it in a way which satisfies their in regulatory purposes and we understand that."
His remarks came after Boris Johnson also defended the vaccine – which has already been given to over 11 million people in the UK — and insisted it's both safe and effective.
Germany, France, and Spain became the latest panicking EU states to pull the plug on the shot yesterday over unsubstantiated claims linking it to blood clots.
They joined the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in stopping its rollout.
Sweden also temporarily suspended its use today – just hours after saying there was no evidence of a "causal link" with blood clots.
But the European Medicines Agency slapped down the group and said there's no evidence for their fears ahead of a review into the jab's safety today.
In a statement it said: "Many thousands of people develop blood clots annually in the EU for different reasons.
"The number of thromboembolic events overall in vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population.
"EMA currently remains of the view that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of side effects."
And last night a senior Whitehall source said: "You expect this disinformation from Russia and China not our European allies."
Amid splits within the bloc Belgium insisted the AZ shot is safe, and just as many blood clots have been registered in those who had the Pfizer dose.
The country's health minister Frank Vandenbroucke blasted other EU states for the "irresponsible" decision to halt vaccinations.
He said: "Based on what we know, there is no reason to stop now. For us, the balance is clear and clean. It's a race against time."
Risk expert Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter also warned banning the Oxford vaccine would inevitably cost lives.
The leading Cambridge University scientist said: “I think these pauses, I don’t think you can consider these as being cautious. They actually could be doing more harm than good.”
Dr Phil Bryan, Vaccines Safety Lead from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, said: “The evidence available does not suggest the vaccine is the cause.
"Blood clots can occur naturally and are not uncommon.
"More than 11million doses of the AZ vaccine have now been administered across the UK and the number of blood clots reported after having the vaccine is not greater than the number that would have occurred naturally.”
Experts said about 3,000 people a month suffered blood clots in Britain anyway.
UK monitoring has found no evidence the Oxford shot raises risk, with rates similar found in recipients of the Pfizer jab.
About 30 blood clots were reported by 9.7million people given Oxford doses by late February.
In comparison, the figure was 38 cases among the first 10.7million Pfizer vaccines.
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