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What's in the news and what people are talking about

We hope you find these news items and stories interesting and informative. We look forward to hearing from you, whether you’d like to comment on a story we’ve posted or you know of a story that our readers would be interested in. News items and stories are selected in consultation with one of the GVDN’s two co-directors and comments are moderated by the epidemiological team at the coordinating centre. We guarantee the independence of editorial content from funding sources. We do not collect, use or share personal data, including information such as e-mail addresses or telephone numbers.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, finalist for the 2021 Nature Research Award for Driving Global Impact

We are very proud to announce that GVDN Co-Director, Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, has been named as one of eight finalists for this prestigious Nature Research Award that recognises researchers whose critical work in climate environment, healthcare and food security could provide insight into future solutions. Helen was shortlisted from over 350 entries across 62 countries for her research into vaccines and immunisation, with a particular focus on vaccine safety and vaccine effectiveness. The finalist submissions will be assessed on their scientific achievements, the potential for scientific impact of their research programme as well as its impact on global challenges. The winner will be announced in November. Full profiles for the shortlisted research can be viewed on nature.com.

The ACCESS Background rates report, excel sheets and event definitions are now available!

The ACCESS Background rates report, excel sheets and event definitions are now available on ZENODO. The ACCESS (vACcine Covid-19 monitoring readinESS) project was funded by the European Medicines Agency to ensure effectively monitoring of COVID-19 vaccines in the European Union. This study has generated background incidence rates of adverse events of special interest (AESI) using electronic health care databases in 7 EU countries (Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and UK). These background rates may be used to monitor the benefit-risk profile of COVID-19 vaccines. A dashboard provides an interactive manner to query and explore the background rates of diagnoses for adverse events of special interest (AESI) for COVID-19 vaccines. You can browse the data according to data source, age, sex, and calendar year, and visualise it as either a graphic or a numerical display.

Funding for the Global Covid Vaccine Safety (GCoVS) project

In April 2021, the GVDN received significant funding from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for a 3 year project entitled Global Covid Vaccine Safety (GCoVS). The purpose of this project is to put in place a coordinated and harmonized post-introduction active surveillance infrastructure in diverse populations across the globe to assess the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. This infrastructure will be capable of responding to safety signals post-introduction of COVID-19 vaccines.

Mix-and-match COVID vaccines trigger potent immune response

A news article in Nature describes a study led by the Carlos III Health Institute in Madrid that explored the benefits of combining different coronavirus vaccines. Preliminary results show that vaccinating people with both the Oxford–AstraZeneca and Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines produces a potent immune response against the virus SARS-CoV-2. The trial of more than 600 people — announced in an online presentation on 18 May — is the first to show the benefits of combining different coronavirus vaccines.

Because of safety concerns, several European countries are already recommending that some or all people who were given a first dose of the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine get another vaccine for their second dose. Researchers hope that such mix-and-match COVID-19 vaccination regimens will trigger stronger, more robust immune responses than will two doses of a single vaccine, while simplifying immunization efforts for countries facing fluctuating supplies of the various vaccines.

Arterial events, venous thromboembolism, thrombocytopenia, and bleeding after vaccination with Oxford-AstraZeneca in Denmark and Norway

A recent article in the BMJ describes a population based cohort study that assessed rates of cardiovascular and haemostatic events in the first 28 days after vaccination with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine ChAdOx1-S in Denmark and Norway, and compared them with rates observed in the general populations.

The researchers observed increased rates of venous thromboembolic events, including cerebral venous thrombosis, among recipients of ChAdOx1-S. For the remaining safety outcomes, the researchers observed slightly higher rates of thrombocytopenia/coagulation disorders and bleeding, which could be influenced by increased surveillance of vaccine recipients. The absolute risks of venous thromboembolic events were, however, small, and the findings should be interpreted in the light of the proven beneficial effects of the vaccine, the context of any given country, and the limitations to the generalisability of the study findings.

The critical role of background rates of possible adverse events in the assessment of COVID-19 vaccine safety

An article in the March edition of Vaccine explains why it is necessary to know the background rates of possible Adverse Events of Special Interest (AESI) when monitoring the safety of COVID-19 vaccines. The article provides examples to illustrate the use of background rates and discusses tools available from the Brighton Collaboration that facilitate case evaluation and understanding of AESI.

The UK Expert Haematology Panel (EHP) has produced guidance on the syndrome of Thrombosis and Thrombocytopenia occurring after coronavirus vaccination

The Expert Haematology Panel is comprised of UK blood clotting experts, who are meeting daily to collect information on possible cases and are in regular communication with the regulators and other haematology groups studying this potential problem in other European countries. Their guidance includes a link to a living document and the contact details for advice from the Expert Haematology Panel. They state that it is important that correct management is applied to prevent the progression of thrombosis. Of critical note, platelet transfusions should be avoided.

Why is it so hard to investigate the rare side effects of COVID vaccines?

A news item in Nature by Ariana Remmel explains how challenging it is to prove that a medical problem following immunization was caused by the vaccine itself and describes the kinds of studies that are needed to understand the causes of rare adverse events. These include targeted clinical trials and active surveillance systems that collect adverse event data, both background rates and rates after vaccination, from electronic health records.

Protocol template for cohort event monitoring (CEM) for safety signal detection after vaccination with COVID-19 vaccines

The WHO has published the COVID-19 vaccines: safety surveillance manual to guide the processes for collecting, analysing and sharing safety data and information on COVID-19 vaccines within and across countries. To accompany this manual and facilitate the conduct of active safety surveillance studies using harmonized tools and methods, a protocol template for cohort event monitoring (CEM) studies has been developed. Read more about development of the protocol template, the cohort event monitoring (CEM) study design, and how it can identify previously unrecognised and unsuspected adverse reactions to the vaccine. The CEM protocol was commissioned by World Health Organization (WHO), coordinated by Dr. Christine Guillard with the support of Dr. Noha Iessa, in the Pharmacovigilance (PVG) team, within the Regulation and Prequalification department at WHO Headquarters.

COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca: benefits still outweigh the risks despite possible link to rare blood clots with low blood platelets

The European Medicines Agency’s safety committee, the Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee, concluded its preliminary review of a signal of blood clots in people vaccinated with COVID-19 Vaccine AstraZeneca at its extraordinary meeting of 18 March 2021. The Committee confirmed that:

  • the benefits of the vaccine in combating the still widespread threat of COVID-19 (which itself results in clotting problems and may be fatal) continue to outweigh the risk of side effects;
  • the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of blood clots (thromboembolic events) in those who receive it;
  • there is no evidence of a problem related to specific batches of the vaccine or to particular manufacturing sites;
  • however, the vaccine may be associated with very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia, i.e. low levels of blood platelets (elements in the blood that help it to clot) with or without bleeding, including rare cases of clots in the vessels draining blood from the brain (CVST).

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