The EU’s largest countries on Monday joined a stream of states halting their rollouts of AstraZeneca jabs over blood clot fears, as the World Health Organization and Europe’s medicines watchdog insisted it was safe to use.
The fresh suspensions were a major blow to a global immunisation campaign that experts hope will help end a pandemic that has already killed over 2.6 million people and decimated the global economy.
The three largest EU countries; Germany, Italy and France all paused rollouts on Monday and were later joined by Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Latvia.
The suspensions were not limited to Europe, with Indonesia also announcing a delay to its rollout of the jab, which is cheaper than its competitors and was billed as the vaccination of choice for poorer nations. In Africa, South Africa, Malawi and DRC also suspended vaccination programs citing safety concerns.
But the WHO insisted countries should keep using the vaccine, adding that it had scheduled a meeting of its experts on Tuesday to discuss the vaccine’s safety.
“We do not want people to panic and we would, for the time being, recommend that countries continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca,” WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said.
“So far, we do not find an association between these events and the vaccine,” she said, referring to reports of blood clots from several countries.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is holding a special meeting on Thursday, echoed the WHO’s calls for calm and said it was better to get the vaccine than not.
“The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization and death, outweigh the risks of side effects,” the agency said in a statement Monday.
The UK has doled out more than 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab, more than the entire EU, apparently without major problems.
Meanwhile, a health worker in Norway died of a brain haemorrhage after receiving the AstraZeneca anti-Covid vaccine, though no direct link to the jab has been established, health authorities in Oslo said Monday.
This is the second such fatality within a few days in the Nordic country, which had suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution last Thursday.
On Saturday, Norway’s health authorities said three health care employees had been hospitalised with blood clots, bleeding and abnormally low levels of platelets in the blood.
All of them were under 50, and all had received a first dose of the vaccine made by the Anglo-Swedish pharma group.
One of the three, described as a woman “in good health”, died on Sunday after a brain haemorrhage, health authorities said. She had been hospitalised on Thursday, about a week after getting the jab.