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Will the Blood Clot Issue Hurt AstraZeneca's Vaccine in the Long Term?

By Brian Orelli, PhD and Keith Speights - May 11, 2021 at 8:41AM

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Investors should be focused on the total picture for the British pharma.

AstraZeneca's (AZN 0.06%) coronavirus vaccine has struggled to gain traction after side effects were discovered. In this video from Motley Fool Live, recorded on April 12, contributors Brian Orelli and Keith Speights discuss not only the prospects for the vaccine but also the overall prospects for the British pharmaceutical company, which is what investors should be focused on.

Brian Orelli: The blood clot issues for AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine just keep going on. I honestly thought they were going to just go away based on the initial data. They seem to say that the events weren't really that much higher than the total population. But then when you break it down by age, it appears that in younger people, the blood clots appear to be more prevalent than baseline, which led the European Medicines Agency to recommend that people under 30 receive another vaccine other than AstraZeneca's vaccine if possible. What do you think of the recommendation, and how it could affect AstraZeneca in the long term?

Keith Speights: First of all, it is important to note that the blood clotting that they're observing is very rare. There have been around 34 million people in Europe who've received the AstraZeneca vaccine so far. There have been, I think, a little over 200 reported cases, somewhere in that ballpark, where blood-clotting occurred.

The problem there is that there have been 30 deaths, and that is concerning. I do think that the EMA recommendation for people under the age of 30 to get another vaccine is a prudent one just because of the risk benefit here. Younger people don't have a high risk of death or severe cases of COVID-19. Taking another vaccine probably is the right call. I would think just based on what they're seeing so far, more research is needed. But there does appear to be a link -- a relationship between the AstraZeneca vaccine and this blood-clotting issue. So that is a concern.

However, the vaccine still offers a lot of benefit and especially for people in the higher age groups where this risk of blood-clotting is less pronounced. They're not yanking the vaccine from the market or anything like that. AstraZeneca already has supply deals in place. The company is selling its COVID vaccine at cost. Over the short term, I don't think there's going to be a real negative financial impact for AstraZeneca here. They're not making profit from it, and they already have deals in place.

Over the long term, though, Brian, I think this could very well become a problem for AstraZeneca. The reason why I think that is, the company definitely would like to make money from its vaccine after the pandemic. It wants to make a profit. It's invested heavily in this vaccine. But these safety issues, even though they're rare, I think, could influence governments in the future to potentially go with other COVID vaccines, when they start making supply deals for 2022 and beyond, so this could be a problem for AstraZeneca to some degree.

But it's important to keep in mind, AstraZeneca is a huge company. They have lots of other products on the market. Quite a few drugs with fast-rising sales. They have a massive pipeline. I checked and they have over 170 candidates in their pipeline, so really robust pipeline. This issue by itself does not mean that the stock isn't one that investors should consider. It does, I think, slightly decrease the prospects for AstraZeneca. But overall, this probably isn't going to be a huge deal for the company over the long run.

Brian Orelli, PhD, Keith Speights, and The Motley Fool have no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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