Australian researchers have uncovered a link between an “unusually dangerous” COVID-19 vaccine complication and rare but potentially fatal blood disease contracted by some people who caught a cold.
The antibodies from the two conditions – vaccine-induced immune thrombocytopenia and thrombosis (VITT), and an adenovirus VITT-like disorder – share almost identical molecular signatures or fingerprints, Adelaide’s Flinders University announced today.

“These findings, using a completely new approach for targeting blood antibodies developed at Flinders University, indicate a common triggering factor on virus and vaccine structures that initiates the pathological PF4 antibodies,” the university’s Professor Tom Gordon said.

Just as supply of AstraZeneca started to improve, confidence in the vaccine was shaken by a number of reports of blood clots developing as a side effect. April saw one of the first reported cases, a 44-year-old Victorian man who was admitted to Melbourne's Box Hill Hospital. He developed blood clots in his spleen, liver and gut after getting the jab.
Australian researchers have uncovered a link between an “unusually dangerous” COVID-19 vaccine complication and rare but potentially fatal blood disease contracted by some people after catching a cold. (AP)

“Indeed, the pathways of lethal antibody production in these disorders must be virtually identical and have similar genetic risk factors.”

The research comes after VITT emerged as a complication that occurred in some rare cases after receiving some COVID-19 vaccines, including the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab used in Australia.

“VITT was found to be caused by an unusually dangerous blood autoantibody directed against a protein termed platelet factor 4 (or PF4),” Flinders University said in a statement.

Flinders University researchers Dr Jing Jing Wang and Flinders Professor Tom Gordon.
Flinders University researchers Dr Jing Jing Wang and Flinders Professor Tom Gordon collaborated with an overseas group to make the findings. (Supplied/Flinders University)

Separately to research into the vaccine side-effect, experts from North America and Europe last year found an almost-identical blood disease with the same PF4 antibody that was fatal for some people who had recently had a common cold.

Flinders researchers Gordon and Dr Jing Jing Wang led a study in 2022 that “cracked the molecular code of the PF4 antibody and identified a genetic risk factor”, the university said.

The latest COVID-19 strain spreading across the world

The groups from Flinders University and overseas collaborated to find the matching molecular fingerprints, publishing their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine today.

Both Gordon and Wang said the findings would play an important role in improving vaccine safety.

”Our findings have the important clinical implication that lessons learned from VITT are applicable to rare cases of blood clotting after adenovirus (a common cold) infections, as well as having implications for vaccine development,” Gordon said.

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