BERLIN – Officials in several European countries on Friday pushed back against decisions by others to stop using AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine after sporadic reports of blood clots, despite no evidence that the shot was responsible.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn said while the country takes reports of possible harmful effects of vaccines “very, very seriously”, neither the European Medicines Agency nor the German vaccination regulator have any evidence of an increase in dangerous blood clots associated with the recordings.
“I regret that some countries in the European Union have suspended the vaccinations with AstraZeneca on Friday morning because of the knowledge,” Spahn told reporters in Berlin.
Denmark became the first country to temporarily stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine on Thursday after reports of blood clots in some people. The Nordic nation’s health authority said the decision was based on a precautionary principle and that a person who developed a blood clot after being vaccinated had died.
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Norway, Iceland and Bulgaria followed suit, suspending use of the Anglo-Swedish company’s vaccine, which was developed in conjunction with Oxford University.
“Until all doubts are dispelled and experts guarantee that there is no risk for people, we will stop vaccination with this vaccine,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said at a cabinet meeting. He said the suspension will last until the European Medicines Agency issues a written statement that it is safe.
The regulator has announced that it will look into the reports – but the vaccinations should continue in the meantime.
Thailand has also delayed the use of the vaccine pending an investigation, while Italy and Romania have stopped using shots from a certain batch. Austria has also stopped using cans from a single but different batch.
That decision followed the death of a 49-year-old girl 10 days after being vaccinated from blood clots and a 35-year-old woman hospitalized. Experts concluded that none of the complications were vaccine-related, and the Austrian Chancellor said on Friday that he himself would be ready to receive the shot “to show that I have confidence in this vaccine”.
“Experts here have a clear opinion and this vaccine is used in many countries around the world and it is already used by tens of millions,” said Sebastian Kurz.
In fact, almost every country that had issued a suspension admitted that there was no evidence that the vaccine caused the clots. Health experts have indicated that the people who are most likely to receive COVID-19 vaccinations right now are also more likely to have other health problems, which could put them at higher risk for blood clots.
France, Poland and Nigeria meanwhile said they would continue to use the AstraZeneca shot even if national regulators conduct an investigation.
“At this stage, the benefits of vaccination will outweigh the risks,” said French Health Minister Olivier Veran.
The suspensions were the latest issue for AstraZeneca, which publicly spat with the European Union earlier this year about delivery delays and also had concerns about its effectiveness in older adults. While EU regulators have allowed it for all adults, some countries have set age restrictions – although many are now lifting them. The problem also arises because many EU countries have struggled to speed up vaccinations quickly.
Despite the bumpy adoption, the vaccine is expected to remain vital to the global immunization program because it is cheaper and easier to store than many others – and because of the global initiative to bring vaccines to poorer countries known as COVAX , depends heavily on the vaccine.
There is currently no evidence that vaccination caused these conditions.
Italy’s prevention ban came after “serious adverse events”. It was not elaborated, but Italian media reported that at least two suspected deaths of military and law enforcement officials were being investigated.
The union, which represents members of the Italian Air Force, confirmed that one of its members had died and asked the government for further clarification.
Italy’s ban affects many 500,000 AstraZeneca cans dispensed across the country.
The European Medicines Agency, which approved the shot in January for use in the EU of 27 countries, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, said “the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks and the vaccine can still be given”, while a closer assessment of the cases of blood clots go on.
“There is currently no evidence that the vaccination caused these conditions,” the regulator said Thursday. It said the number of people with blood clots in vaccinated people was no higher than in those who had not been vaccinated.
The World Health Organization said the same thing, but added that it would evaluate the reports, although it did not expect any changes to the recommendations based on current knowledge.
The UK Medicines Agency also said it had received no reports of blood clots in people caused by the AstraZeneca vaccine. More than 11 million doses of AstraZeneca have been administered in the UK.
“Reports of previously received blood clots are no greater than the numbers that would have occurred naturally in the vaccinated population,” the agency said.
The EU Medicines Agency has separately stated that the product information for the AstraZeneca vaccine should be updated to reflect that cases of severe allergic reactions have been reported.
The proposed update is based on a review of 41 reported cases of anaphylaxis or severe allergic reactions found in 5 million people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine. In a statement on Friday, the Amsterdam-based agency said it had concluded that “at least some of these cases are likely to be linked to the vaccine”.
Such allergic reactions are a recognized rare side effect of numerous vaccines and have been reported for other COVID-19 vaccinations, including those from Pfizer and BioNTech.