Germany, Italy, France have announced to halt the rollouts of AstraZeneca jabs on Monday over blood clot fears, as the World Health Organization and Europe’s medicines watchdog insisted it was safe to use.
The three largest EU countries were later joined by Spain, Portugal, Slovenia and Latvia.
The World Health Organization chief said the agency’s vaccine safety experts would meet Tuesday to discuss the AstraZeneca jab after a number of countries halted its use over blood clot fears.
“WHO’s advisory committee on vaccine safety has been reviewing the available data, is in close contact with the European Medicines Agency, and will meet tomorrow,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.
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 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.
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 hospitalisation 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.
The EMA said in a statement that it would “further review the information” on the jab Tuesday, and had “called an extraordinary meeting on Thursday…. to conclude on the information gathered and any further actions that may need to be taken.
Denmark and Norway stopped giving the shot last week after reporting isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and a low platelet count. Iceland and Bulgaria followed suit and Ireland and the Netherlands announced suspensions on Sunday.
The moves by some of Europe’s largest and most populous countries will deepen concerns about the slow rollout of vaccines in the region, which has been plagued by shortages due to problems producing vaccines, including AstraZeneca’s.
Austria and Spain have stopped using particular batches and prosecutors in the northern Italian region of Piedmont earlier seized 393,600 doses following the death of a man hours after he was vaccinated. It was the second region to do so after Sicily, where two people had died shortly after having their shots.