The decision by major EU countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine was a “political one,” the head of Italy’s medicines regulator conceded.
Nicola Magrini said the AstraZeneca shot was safe, but the precautionary measure was taken after discussions with Italian health authorities and other countries, following reports that the vaccine developed by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm could cause dangerous blood clots.
“We got to the point of a suspension because several European countries, including Germany and France, preferred to interrupt vaccinations … to put them on hold in order to carry out checks. The choice is a political one,” Mr Magrini told la Repubblica.
A health worker looks at the AstraZeneca vaccine in Tbilisi, Georgia. A shipment of 43,200 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Georgia on 13 March as some countries temporarily halted the use of the jab. EPA
The European Medicines Agency reiterated on Tuesday that there was “no indication” AstraZeneca’s vaccine caused blood clots incidents after more than a dozen EU countries suspended use of the jab until investigations are concluded.
“We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risk of these side effects,” said Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA.
She said experts were urgently reviewing safety data with an outcome potentially expected on Thursday but added that “a situation like this is not unexpected when you vaccinate millions of people”.
Ms Cooke said she was also aware of reports that suggest blood clots have been linked to the vaccines developed by Moderna and Pfizer, which have not been suspended from use yet.
“We are looking at adverse effects associated with all vaccines,” she said.
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“At the moment the current focus, because of the reported instances in Europe, is the AstraZeneca [vaccine] but we have looked at the background rates for all the vaccines currently in circulation and it looks like there are similar numbers coming in across the world.”
She said worries over blood clots were a “serious concern” that required “thorough analysis of all the cases that are reported and to evaluate whether this is a coincidence or indeed a causal effect”.
Some 14 million doses from AstraZeneca have been delivered to the EU so far but nearly 8 million have not been administered.
German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said the precautionary measure to temporarily halt the use of the vaccine was purely based on recommendations by independent health experts.
“Of course we hope that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be used again – as it is already the case in many other countries around the world,” he said.