More EU countries stop AstraZeneca shot as EMA reviews side effects

An army health worker prepares a dose of Covishield, AstraZeneca / Oxford’s Covid-19 coronavirus vaccine at an Army hospital in Colombo on 29 January 2021.

ishara S. Kodikara | AFP | Getty Images

LONDON – Two additional countries on Tuesday decided to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe due to worrying blood clots, as regulators begin a new investigation into its side effects.

Sweden and Latvia announced on Tuesday morning that they were suspending their implementation with the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed in conjunction with Oxford University. Portugal, Luxembourg and Slovenia made the decision on Monday night to stop using the shot. Earlier in the day, Germany, France, Italy and Spain also joined the group of nations that suspended the use of the vaccine.

So far, 13 countries in the European Union have taken this decision, while a few others have stopped using individual groups of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Austria only decided last week to suspend the use of a specific amount of AstraZeneca shots after the death of a 49-year-old woman who received the vaccine.

‘Benefits still outweigh risks’

Europe’s health regulator has insisted that the “benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine to prevent Covid-19, with the associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects.”

The European Medicines Agency said in a statement on Monday that it would review the information further and convened an extraordinary meeting on Thursday on the issue. The institution reiterated its position on Tuesday during a press conference.

“At present, there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions,” said Emer Cooke, director of the European Medicines Agency. “The benefits outweigh the risks, but they are a serious concern and do require a serious and comprehensive scientific evaluation. That is what we are currently involved in.”

She added: “We are concerned that the confidence of the vaccines could be affected … but our job is to make sure that the products we authorize are safe.”

Of course, we need speed, not just for the economy, but primarily for the health of our citizens, but at the same time, we need security.

Paolo Gentiloni

EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs

The World Health Organization has called on countries to continue their vaccinations with the vaccine against AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

A number of EU countries supported the shot. In Belgium, Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke said on Monday that interrupting it would be “irresponsible”. While authorities in the Czech Republic have also said they will administer the vaccine.

Outside the EU, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom also rallied in support of AstraZeneca.

To date, more than 6 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot have been administered in the EU, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

AstraZeneca said on Sunday that of the 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and the UK, there were 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis and 22 cases of pulmonary embolism, according to data received by March 8.

“It is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this magnitude, and is similar to other licensed Covid-19 vaccines,” the firm said in a statement.

Concerns about the vaccine could jeopardize the EU target of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of the summer. The AstraZeneca vaccine has so far been popular in Europe because it is cheaper than its competitors and easier to store. It may then be possible slowing economic recovery in the region.

“Of course we need speed, not only for the economy, but especially for the health of our citizens, but at the same time we need security,” European Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told a news conference on Monday.

He added that the precautionary measures were “justified” and that the review carried out by the EMA should provide “security to our EU citizens”.

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