The UK’s health regulator said that it hasn’t seen any worrisome reactions to Covid-19 vaccines so far after reports from Norway raised safety concerns.
At a public board meeting, interim chief executive officer of the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, June Raine, said: “There’s nothing unusual in what we’re seeing. At the moment it’s really fulfilling what we expected.”
Norway’s authorities said that 33 elderly people living in nursing homes died shortly after being immunized. The reports made international headlines as the world looks for early signs of potential side effects, even as scientists said deaths are bound to be more common among the frailest and sickest patients, without necessarily resulting from vaccination.
The unprecedented speed with which the shots were developed, approved and deployed means close monitoring of any fallout is a key priority. In the UK, the public can report any reactions to the so-called Yellow Card Scheme, which monitors suspected side effects of any medicines or vaccines.
Reports are coming “really thick and fast now,” Raine said, and the agency plans to publish its approach on how it will communicate about them in the coming days, followed by the data itself. The regulator is also partnering with academic groups to interrogate the information in a bid to boost public confidence in the vaccine program.
The UK has approved three Covid-19 vaccines since the start of December, with more than four million Britons vaccinated.
In a controversial move, the regulator agreed the first dose of two of the shots should be prioritized and allowed a window of up to 12 weeks for the second dose to be given, despite a lack of clinical evidence.
An executive at one of the vaccine makers, AstraZeneca Plc, told a government committee last week that further analysis suggested an eight-to-12 week gap was the “sweet spot” for their vaccine.
Other shots could be approved soon, according to the regulator. Raine said she was pleased other nations were looking at a similar strategy on dosing.
In the US, President-Elect Joe Biden’s team has said it will release all available doses to speed up the immunization effort, raising the possibility the second injection may come later than scheduled if supplies aren’t replenished soon enough.
“The news that maybe some other countries are thinking of spacing the doses a bit for the same important benefit is something that’s really encouraging,” said Raine.