Major European nations suspend use of UK’s AstraZeneca vaccine
A growing number of European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use of Britain’s AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients.
The escalating concern is another setback for the European Union's vaccination drive, which has been plagued by shortages and other hurdles and is lagging well behind other developed nations, The Associated Press reported.
AstraZeneca's formula is one of three vaccines in use on the continent.
The EU's drug regulatory agency called a meeting for Thursday to review experts' findings on the AstraZeneca shot and decide whether action needs to be taken.
The furor comes as much of Europe is tightening restrictions on schools and businesses amid surging cases of COVID-19.
Germany's health minister said the decision to suspend AstraZeneca shots was taken on the advice of the country's vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.
France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Slovenia also announced a temporary ban.
Other countries that have done so over the past few days include Denmark, which was the first, as well as Ireland, Thailand, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Congo and Bulgaria.
Canada and Britain are standing by the vaccine for now.
In the coming weeks, AstraZeneca is expected to apply for U.S. authorization of its vaccine. The U.S. now relies on Pfizer's, Moderna's and Johnson & Johnson's shots.
AstraZeneca said there have been 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the 27-country EU and Britain. The drugmaker claimed there is no evidence the vaccine carries an increased risk of clots.
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.
The AstraZeneca shot has become a key tool in European countries' efforts to boost their sluggish vaccine rollouts. Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines are also used on the European continent, and J&J's one-shot vaccine has been authorized but not yet delivered.
Spahn, the German health minister, defended the country's decision to ban the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying, "The most important thing for confidence is transparency.” He said both first and second doses would be suspended.
Germany has received slightly over 3 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and about half of those have so far been administered, compared with almost 7 million of the Pfizer shot and about 285,000 from Moderna.
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.
The head of the Spanish Medicines Agency, Maria Jesús Lamas, said Spain detected its first case of clots on Saturday. She said the ban was “not an easy decision” because it further slows the nation's vaccination campaign, but it was the “most prudent” approach.
Some European countries, meanwhile, have begun reimposing coronavirus restrictions in a bid to beat back a resurgence in infections, many of them from variants of the original virus.
In Italy, 80% of children nationwide couldn’t attend classes after stricter rules in more regions took effect on Monday. In Poland, bolstered restrictions were applied to two more regions, including Warsaw. Paris could go into lockdown in a matter of days because intensive care units are getting swamped with COVID-19 patients.
And calls are growing in Germany to “pull the emergency brake” in regions where cases are rising.