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Pharma company AstraZeneca withdrawing Covid vaccine because it’s outdated – not ‘after admitting to dangerous side effect’

IN SHORT: Social media posts claiming that AstraZeneca's Covid vaccine has been withdrawn because of a rare and sometimes fatal side effect are false. The manufacturer withdrew it because it was outdated.

“AstraZaneca Covid 19 vaccine withdrawn worldwide after manufacturers admitted it can cause dangerous side effect,” reads a claim circulating on social media in Ghana and elsewhere in May 2024.

The vaccine was developed at the UK’s Oxford University in the first year of the Covid pandemic, in collaboration with the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. Its generic name is ChAdOx1-S and its brand names are Covishield and Vaxzevria.

It’s been used in more than 100 countries across the world, with about 3 billion vaccines administered. In February 2021, the West African country of Ghana became the first country on the continent to roll out, under the Covax facility, what was then known as the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

Many versions of the claim use a graphic showing a vaccine vial and the text: “AstraZeneca Covid vaccine withdrawn worldwide, months after its manufacturers admitted the vaccine can cause a rare and dangerous side effect.”

The graphic includes the logo of TV3 Ghana, while the text is credited to the Telegraph, a UK newspaper. In Ghana, it’s been posted with comments such as:

  • Do you even know the type of vaccine administered to you? That's why I never tried that madness.
  • A Woe Generation.Wicked men at the TOP...When God warns,people won't listen.A generation who trust scientists,elits more than the Almighty God.
  • It took them 4 years of arrogance and self enrichment to finally admit they’ve killed and caused long lasting life defects to billions of people. The health sector needs a change.

Other versions of the claim link to the Telegraph article as evidence.

When it was first published on 7 May 2024, the article’s headline read: “AstraZeneca withdrawing Covid vaccine, months after admitting rare side effect.”

It’s since been altered to read: “AstraZeneca withdrawing Covid vaccine worldwide.” No reason for the change is given.

Some online users have taken the claim further, saying that the vaccine has been withdrawn due to a “rare and severe side effect”.

The claim can also be seen here and here. (Note: See more instances listed at the end of the report.)

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TTS side effect identified in 2021, included in AstraZeneca package inserts

AstraZeneca has voluntarily withdrawn its Covid vaccine, which has a rare and sometimes fatal side effect. 

But the side effect, which the company has acknowledged for years, has nothing to do with the vaccine’s withdrawal.

The AstraZeneca vaccine’s most severe side effect is thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS. Thrombosis is a blood clot in the blood vessels or the heart, which can lead to stroke, heart attack or an embolism in the lungs. Thrombocytopenia is a low number of platelets in the blood.

TTS is rare, occurring in two to three people for every 100,000 who got the jab. When it has occurred, it has led to death in a range from 5% to 50% of cases.

On the other hand, it’s been independently estimated that the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine saved more than 6 million lives in its first year of use. 

In April 2024, the Telegraph reported that “AstraZeneca admits its Covid vaccine can cause rare side effect in court documents for first time”.

But this is misleading. All it says is that AstraZeneca has acknowledged the TTS side effect for the first time in court documents.

The company is currently facing a class action lawsuit in the UK from families of people who have died from TTS, and others who claim to have been disabled by the vaccine.

AstraZeneca’s submission was made to the UK high court in February. The Telegraph quotes it:

It is admitted that the AZ vaccine can, in very rare cases, cause TTS. The causal mechanism is not known. Further, TTS can also occur in the absence of the AZ vaccine (or any vaccine). Causation in any individual case will be a matter for expert evidence.

TTS was first identified as a possible side effect of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March and April 2021. This was after the completion of clinical trials of the vaccine, which was tested in around 60,000 people

From April 2021, warnings about TTS as a side effect were included in package inserts and other patient information about the vaccine – here, here, here, here, here and here. It was also mentioned in AstraZeneca’s 2021 annual report.

The company has acknowledged the side effect since it was first identified three years ago.

Outcompeted and outdated

In March 2024, AstraZeneca applied to have the vaccine’s European Union marketing authorisation withdrawn, which was approved on 7 May. The vaccine is no longer manufactured or sold and has been withdrawn worldwide.

The vaccine was developed to combat the original Wuhan strain of the coronavirus and has not been updated. This means that it is less effective against new variants of the virus. For example, it was withdrawn from South Africa in early 2021 because it provided little protection against the mutated Beta variant of the virus, which was dominant in the country at the time.

In a May 2024 statement, AstraZeneca said: “As multiple, variant Covid-19 vaccines have since been developed, there is a surplus of available updated vaccines. This has led to a decline in demand for Vaxzevria.”

Several experts have backed this up, saying that with far lower demand for Covid vaccines and far more effective options available, AstraZeneca no longer has a commercial reason to manufacture and distribute its vaccine.

AstraZeneca withdrew its vaccine because it was outdated and couldn't compete, not because of the long-identified side effect of TTS.

The vaccine has been a target of misinformation from the start – and to the end.

The claim can also be found here, here, here, here, here and here.

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