Pfizer, AstraZeneca Vaccines Safe, U.K. Review Shows

Covid vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc continue to meet the U.K.’s safety standards as the country ramps up its immunization campaign, with most suspected side effects mild and short-term, according to a regulatory review.

Possible side effects were reported for about three in 1,000 doses administered, according to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. A total of 143 deaths were reported shortly after injections, but there’s no suggestion the vaccines played a role.

The global rush to immunize vulnerable people has prompted intense scrutiny of vaccine safety, with early reports of deaths following injections prompting concern in Norway. The country’s health officials have said they see no evidence of a direct link to the shots.

As in Norway, the deaths in the U.K. that followed vaccinations occurred in people who were elderly or had underlying medical conditions, the MHRA said.

Those cases in Britain “don’t raise alarms,” Philip Bryan, vaccines safety lead for the agency, said in a briefing with journalists Friday. “But obviously we take every report seriously and we keep it under review.”

Most reported side effects reflect a normal immune response, though 75 reports of a facial paralysis condition known as Bell’s Palsy are being monitored, the agency said.

Safety ‘Reassuring’

“The safety profile of these vaccines is reassuring,” June Raine, chief executive officer of the agency, said in the briefing. “It remains positive and the benefits continue to far outweigh the risks.”

The head of the European health regulator said in November that monitoring the safety of Covid vaccines, especially those relying on novel technologies such as messenger RNA, would be one of the biggest challenges once shots are rolled out widely.

The U.K. was the first western country to approve a coronavirus vaccine and has raced ahead of neighbors in the European Union, administering more than 10 million doses so far.

The review covered injections through Jan. 24. As of that date, an estimated 5.4 million first doses of the shot from Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE and 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine had been administered. About half a million second doses had been given.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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