Four EU powerhouses halt AstraZeneca vaccine
Spain has joined Germany, France and Italy to become the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators have said there is no evidence 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.
What we know about the AstraZeneca vaccine
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, Aifa, also announced a precautionary, temporary ban.
Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said use of the vaccine would be suspended there for at least two weeks.
The announcement followed by a day the latest known death of a person in Italy shortly after receiving the vaccine. A 57-year-old clarinet teacher, who received the vaccine in the northern Piedmont region on Saturday evening, as part of a national rollout for teachers, died at home early Sunday morning.
Autopsies have been ordered for that death, as well as to a handful of other deaths last week of others in Italy who had received the vaccine.
AstraZeneca: 37 reports in 17 million people
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 drugmaker said there is no evidence 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.
'No reason' for Australia to pause AstraZeneca vaccine rollout: expert
The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organisation have also said that the data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunised.
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 authorised but not yet delivered.
In the US, which relies on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, AstraZeneca is expected to apply any day now for authorisation.
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.
Australia, Britain standing by vaccine
Denmark last week became the first country to temporarily halt 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, 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. Australia and Britain have said they are 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.
Q&A: What we know about the AstraZeneca vaccine
Is Australia planning to use the AstraZeneca vaccine?
Yes. Australia has secured about 54 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with 50 million of them to be produced locally in Melbourne.The first shipment arrived in Australia at the end of February.
I'm Australian, which vaccine will I get?
Australia has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine. You will not be given a choice about which vaccine you get.
What does the government think about these blood clot developments?
Scott Morrison has moved to reassure Australians that the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is safe.He said there was no need for Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to reconsider the vaccine.The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use last month.