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France, Germany, Italy, other European nations halt AstraZeneca vaccine

Several countries have suspended use of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Britain's Oxford University over a small number of cases in which recipients saw blood clotting. File Photo by Luong Thai Linh/EPA-EFE
Several countries have suspended use of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Britain's Oxford University over a small number of cases in which recipients saw blood clotting. File Photo by Luong Thai Linh/EPA-EFE

March 16 (UPI) -- Several European nations have become the latest to suspend use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Britain's Oxford University over a small number of recipients who said they had blood clotting issues after receiving the shot.

The latest countries to halt use of the vaccine are Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia and Cyprus. The moves follow similar suspensions in Ireland and the Netherlands.

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The suspensions are related to a small number of cases in Norway where recipients of the vaccine saw blood clotting and bleeding. One died from a brain hemorrhage.

Denmark, Thailand, Norway, Iceland, Bulgaria, Luxembourg, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia have also suspended the vaccine.

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Spain's health ministry said Monday it will suspend the vaccine following reports last weekend of a cerebral vein thrombosis in some recipients who have received the AstraZeneca shot. The suspension began Tuesday and will last for two weeks.

Germany's suspension will last until the EMA investigation is completed. Its healthy ministry said seven clotting cases have been found in Germany and three recipients have died.

French President Emmanuel Macron said France will suspend the vaccine beginning Tuesday. Cyprus has also postponed vaccinations until Thursday.

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AstraZeneca said Sunday that data from more than 17 million vaccinations in the EU has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clotting. It also said the number of such events is lower than would be expected in the general population.

AstraZeneca said Monday that safety is its top priority.

"[We] are working with national health authorities and European officials and look forward to their assessment later this week," it said in The New York Times.

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Both the World Health Organization and European Medicines Agency will hold meetings on Thursday to discuss the vaccine.

The EMA said several nations have suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine as "a precaution" during an investigation. It said thousands of people have received the vaccine and the issue of blood clots does not appear to be linked to it.

"EMA currently remains of the view that 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.

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The WHO has advised against suspending the vaccine.

Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director general for Access to Medicines, Vaccines and Pharmaceuticals, told reporters Monday the AstraZeneca doses in question were from European manufacturers and none were given to its COVAX facility, which receives vaccines made in South Korea and India.

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Simao said the risks of withholding the AstraZeneca vaccines outweighs the risk of the COVID infection.

WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan pointed out that 300 million COVID-19 doses by various manufacturers have been administered and there have been no deaths directly linked to any.

"We do not want people to panic, and we would for the time being recommend that countries continue vaccinating with the AstraZeneca vaccine," she said.

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January 31, 2020
National Institutes of Health official Dr. Anthony Fauci (C) speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Alexander Azar (L) announced that the United States is declaring the virus a public health emergency and issued a federal quarantine order of 14 days for 195 Americans. Photo by Leigh Vogel/UPI | License Photo

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