Germany, Austria, France, Spain and Italy become latest EU nations to announce temporary ban; European Medicines Agency tries to allay concerns, claiming there are no known health risks.
Austria, Germany, France, Spain and Italy on Monday became the latest countries to suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company, European regulators and the World Health Organization have said there is no evidence that the shot is to blame.
Germany’s health minister said the decision was taken on the advice of the country’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven reported cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.
“Today’s decision is a purely precautionary measure,” Jens Spahn said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would likewise suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the European Union’s drug regulatory agency will weigh in on the vaccine. He said France hopes to resume using the formula soon.
Italy’s medicines regulator and Spain’s health minister also announced a precautionary, temporary ban.
AstraZeneca said on its website that there have been 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the 27-country European Union and Britain. The drug maker said there is no evidence that the vaccine carries an increased risk of clots.
In fact, it said the incidence of clots is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar to that of other licensed COVID-19 vaccines.
The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also said that the data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunized.
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan of the WHO said Monday that officials at the UN health agency “don’t want people to panic” even as close monitoring of the vaccine’s use continues. She said a review is underway that could produce updated recommendations as early as Tuesday.
Swaminathan noted that some 300 million doses of a variety of coronavirus vaccines have been given to people around the world, and “there is no documented death that has been linked to a COVID vaccine.”
She said the rates at which blood clots have occurred in people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine “are in fact less than what you would expect in the general population.”
The AstraZeneca shot has become a key tool in European countries’ efforts to vaccinate their citizens against COVID-19. But Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines are also used on the continent, and Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine has been authorized, though not yet delivered.
In the US, which relies on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, AstraZeneca is expected to apply any day now for authorization.
Blood clots can travel through the body and cause heart attacks, strokes, and deadly blockages in the lungs. AstraZeneca reported 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis, or a type of clot that often develops in the legs, and 22 instances of pulmonary embolisms, or clots in the lungs.
Denmark last week became the first country to temporarily halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent days to investigate. It said one person developed clots and died 10 days after receiving at least one dose. The other countries include Ireland, Indonesia, Thailand, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Congo, and Bulgaria.
Last week, Germany and France were among the nations that stuck by the shot, while Italy suspended only a specific batch of the vaccine. Britain is standing by AstraZeneca’s vaccine for now.
Spahn, the German health minister, said of the decision to suspend the AstraZeneca shot: “The most important thing for confidence is transparency.” He said both first and second doses of the vaccine would be affected by the suspension.
German authorities have encouraged anyone who feels increasingly ill more than four days after receiving the shot — for example, with persistent headaches or dot-shaped bruises — to seek medical attention.
Germany has received slightly over 3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Spahn said about 1.6 million doses of the shot have so far been administered in the country.
(Times of Israel).