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AstraZeneca’s Vaccine Rollout Restricted Over Clotting Fears

Some countries have followed Europe’s lead in restricting vaccine doses, while Brazil and Mexico are charging on.

By Colm Quinn, the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
A man is inoculated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 amid the coronavirus pandemic in Bogotá on April 7.
A man is inoculated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 amid the coronavirus pandemic in Bogotá on April 7. Raul ARBOLEDA / AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: EU regulators find links between AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, conservative candidates win in South Korean municipal elections, and violence continues in Northern Ireland.

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Clotting Links Slow AstraZeneca Rollout

Governments across Europe have placed restrictions on the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine after the EU medicines regulator determined a link between the vaccine and “very rare” blood clots coupled with low blood platelet counts; the risk appears to be higher for younger people.

After the news was announced, Spain and Italy reportedly restricted usage of the AstraZeneca vaccine and will now only give it to people over 60, following similar moves in Germany and the Netherlands, while the United Kingdom says it will offer alternative shots to those under 30 years old. The vaccine had already been on hold in Norway and Denmark.

Despite the decisions in Europe, the World Health Organization has urged further study saying the link to clotting should be “considered plausible but is not confirmed.” In its statement, the WHO contrasted the rare incidents that have caused concern with the huge numbers of those without any ill-effects. About 200 million people worldwide have already received a dose of the vaccine.

COVAX effects. Even if the link to increased blood clotting is minor, any hint of serious side effects threatens the global vaccine rollout. AstraZeneca accounts for roughly 14 percent of the vaccine stock of COVAX, the global facility that many poorer countries rely on for doses. It’s also the only vaccine to have signed licensing agreements with manufacturers around the world, allowing the vaccine to be produced closer to the countries where it is needed.

The effects of the European actions are already being felt in Africa: Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have delayed their rollout of the vaccine as a result, a move that puts the 500 million AstraZeneca shots the African Union has already purchased in jeopardy.

Mexico, which has secured a loan arrangement with the United States for its neighbors’ AstraZeneca stock, does not plan to restrict the vaccine’s use, its regulator said. Brazil, the current epicenter of the pandemic has also said it would continue its rollout: 4 million AstraZeneca doses have been administered so far in the country.

Money problems. In India, which had administered roughly 47 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab by the end of March, the problem lies in creating more doses, rather than holding off. The Serum Institute, the vaccine’s manufacturer, has called for $403 million in funding to offset a shortfall following the government’s decision to halt exports to deal with its own virus surge.

What We’re Following Today 

South Korean elections. Conservative candidates won mayoral races in South Korea’s two largest cities on Wednesday, soundly defeating challengers from President Moon Jae-in’s Democratic Party. The votes in Seoul and Busan are seen as key barometers of public sentiment ahead of presidential elections slated for March 2022. A presidential spokesman said Moon took the vote as a “reprimand” from the public and will concentrate on voter’s “desperate demands.” 

Belfast violence. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the latest night of violence in Northern Ireland, as riots in Belfast’s pro-British loyalist enclaves have injured up to 40 police officers. On Wednesday night, a double-decker bus was commandeered by rioters and set alight while multiple petrol bombs were hurled at police.

Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster condemned the violence as unrepresentative of the unionist or loyalist cause, adding that it was an “embarrassment to Northern Ireland.” The violence comes against the backdrop of growing frustration from the unionist community over Brexit trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Greenland’s green election. The left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit party won Tuesday’s election in Greenland with 37 percent of the vote, casting doubt on the future of a controversial rare-earth and uranium mine that’s attracted international attention. IA’s victory is a win for those concerned about the environmental impacts of the project and a blow for Greenland Minerals—the Australian company looking to exploit the mine—as well as its Chinese investors.

On Wednesday, IA’s chairman, Mute Egede, pledged opposition to the mine. “The people have spoken,” Egede told broadcaster DR. “It won’t happen.” IA, who won 12 out of the 31 seats in the parliament, will now seek a support of a smaller party—such as Naleraq, which is also opposed to the mine—in order to form a coalition government.

Keep an Eye On

Solidarity taxes. Vitor Gaspar, the International Monetary Fund’s head of fiscal affairs has called for a temporary “solidarity” tax on high earners and companies with unusually high profits during the pandemic. In an interview with the Financial Times, Gaspar said the tax on high earners is necessary in the name of social cohesion even if public finances are already healthy. Gaspar also called for greater international investment in COVID-19 vaccines, saying it was “likely to be the global investment project with the highest return ever considered.”

Palestinian assistance. The Biden administration will resume funding for a U.N. agency that supports Palestinian refugees, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on Wednesday. The move means the U.N. Relief and Works Agency will receive a $150 million boost to put toward health care, education, and other aid services in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Lebanon, and Jordan. Although Wednesday’s announcement is a departure from the Trump administration, which had halted the funding, the Biden administration still plans to keep some of Trump’s policies in place—including keeping the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Odds and Ends

Kevin Rudd is best known as a former Australian prime minister. Last Tuesday night in Queensland, he was mistaken for an Uber driver.

The former Labor party leader became an unlikely chauffeur when a group of revelers—described as “tipsy” by Rudd’s daughter—piled into his car as he sought parking at a local restaurant. Rudd obliged the passengers, reportedly driving half the journey to the town’s main drag before being recognized by his would-be customers.

“Four young Melburnians getting drenched in a Queensland subtropical downpour at Noosa last night with no Uber in sight. … So what’s a man to do?” Rudd later wrote on Twitter.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn