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France, Italy, Germany among latest countries to suspend AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

While regulators have tried to reassure the public about safety of the Astra shot, concerns are growing (AP)Premium
While regulators have tried to reassure the public about safety of the Astra shot, concerns are growing (AP)

  • French President Emmanuel Macron said that France was suspending use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine pending a decision on its safety by the European Medicines Agency
  • Germany on Monday became the biggest country in Europe to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

France, Italy and Germany became the latest major European countries to block Astrazeneca's Covid-19 vaccines over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators said there is no evidence the shot is to blame.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France, was suspending use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine pending a decisions on its safety by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

"The decision has been made... to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, hoping that we can resume it quickly if the judgement of the EMA allows it," Macron said at a press conference, adding that an announcement by the EMA was expected on Tuesday afternoon.

Italy too, on Monday suspended the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, making it the latest European country to put the product on hold following reports of recipients falling ill.

The Italian medicines authority AIFA said it was taking the decision as a "precautionary and temporary measure" pending rulings by the European Medicines Agency.

The announcements came shortly after Germany took the same step, and followed the seizure of hundreds of thousands of doses of the vaccine by Italian prosecutors in the northern region of Piedmont.

This suspension of the use of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine is amid a growing health scare that’s creating yet another delay for the European Union’s inoculation campaign.

The country cited the recommendation of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which oversees vaccine safety, according to a statement from the health ministry on Monday.

These three countries join about a dozen places, including Northern Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland, that have halted use of the product amid reports of serious blood clotting. It’s yet another blow to a vaccination campaign that’s proving embarrassingly slow and politically damaging for governments across the EU.

While regulators have tried to reassure the public about safety of the Astra shot, concerns are growing. Some Italian regions are reporting a high level of cancellations of vaccine appointments where the dose offered is the Astra one. Authorities in Italy have also seized hundreds of thousands of Astra shots as part of their response.

The decision of governments to pause Astra shot deliveries could delay a goal of immunizing three-quarters of the population by as much as a month. London-based research firm Airfinity Ltd. said it could push back the timing by at least a couple of weeks and potentially longer -- to September instead of August.

As the EU tries to accelerate the inoculation plan, national governments are paying a price. In Germany, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union suffered a rout in regional elections at the weekend that’s being partly blamed on the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Europe is still on track to meet vaccine supply targets as increased output from Pfizer offsets any shortages in AstraZeneca shots, EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said on Europe 1 radio over the weekend.

At the current average rate of 1.26 million doses per day, it would take 16 months for the European Union to cover 75% of its population with two-dose vaccines, compared with five months for the U.S. and seven for the U.K., according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker. Airfinity’s estimates assume that the daily rate of shots will increase as supplies grow, speeding up progress toward that key threshold.

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