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Spain to Germany: Which Countries Have Halted Use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 Vaccine Till Now?

A nurse prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health care centre. (Image: AP)

A nurse prepares to administer a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at a health care centre. (Image: AP)

From Spain to Germany, several countries around the world have halted their use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine.

A month ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use. Now, many countries around the world have halted their use of the vaccines amid concerns of serious side effects. It began with Austria raising concerns about the after effects of the vaccine about ten days ago. On March 7, Austrian authorities suspended inoculations with a batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine as a precaution while investigating the death of one person and the illness of another after the shots. One 49-year-old woman died as a result of severe coagulation disorders, while a 35-year-old woman developed a pulmonary embolism and was recovering. A pulmonary embolism is an acute lung disease caused by a dislodged blood clot.

The Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG) said blood clotting was not among the known side effects of the vaccine. It was pursuing its investigation vigorously to completely rule out any possible link. Within the next few days, health authorities in Denmark, Norway and Iceland suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine following reports of the formation of blood clots in some people who had been vaccinated.

Why are countries suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine?

Whenever a vaccine is rolled out on a massive scale like AstraZeneca, it is expected that some recipients might report side effects. Moreover, since most of the Covid-19 vaccines are experimental, some side effects might be unforeseen. It can also be incredibly difficult to link the side effects to the vaccines.

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In Denmark and Austria, health authorities reported that some of the recipients had experienced blood clotting problems. Health authorities in Norway also reported that four patients, under the age of 50, who had received the AstraZeneca jabs, had an unusually low number of blood platelets, which could lead to severe bleeding.

Blood clots can travel through the body and cause heart attacks, strokes and deadly blockages in the lungs. AstraZeneca reported 15 cases of deep vein thrombosis, or a type of clot that often develops in the legs, and 22 instances of pulmonary embolisms, or clots in the lungs.

Which countries have halted the use of AstraZeneca so far?

After Norway, Denmark and Austria several other European countries followed suit.

Germany, France and Italy and Spain became the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators have said there is no evidence the shot is to blame.

Germany’s health minister said the decision was taken on the advice of the country’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven reported cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would likewise suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the European Union’s drug regulatory agency will weigh in on the vaccine. He said France hopes to resume using the formula soon.

Italy’s medicines regulator also announced a precautionary, temporary ban.

Last week, Germany and France were among the nations that stuck by the shot, while Italy suspended only a specific batch of the vaccine. Britain is standing by AstraZeneca’s vaccine for now.

Spain is suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for at least a fortnight, the health minister said Monday, the latest European country to do so over blood clot fears. On Friday, at least five Spanish regions had said they were suspending use of a suspect batch of the vaccine as a precautionary measure.

Bulgaria also suspended the use of the vaccine as it investigates the death of a woman with several underlying conditions who recently received the jab. An initial probe had suggested the woman died from heart failure and an autopsy found no link with the vaccination.Ireland and the Netherlands join the list on Sunday.

Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Luxembourg also suspend the use of doses from the same batch, which has been delivered to 17 countries and included one million vaccines.

Latvian health authorities said Monday they were temporarily suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, following the lead of other countries to have paused rollouts over blood clot fears.

Australia has no plans to halt the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday, as several European countries paused administering the vaccine after reports of possible serious side-effects.

Australia has no plans to halt the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Tuesday, as several European countries paused administering the vaccine after reports of possible serious side-effects.

What does the WHO say about this?

On Monday, the WHO recommended that countries should continue using the AstraZeneca jabs for now. “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 told a press briefing.

The WHO said its vaccine safety experts were looking at the data and would meet on Tuesday, while Europe’s medicines watchdog will hold a special meeting on Thursday.

The World Health Organization, AstraZeneca, and the European Medicines Agency have insisted the shot is safe, and that there is no link between the vaccine and reported blood clots.

What does AstraZeneca say about the claims about the vaccine?

On Sunday, AstraZeneca Inc said a review of safety data of people vaccinated with its COVID-19 vaccine has shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. The drugmaker said dozens of events of deep vein thrombosis and 22 events of pulmonary embolism have been reported so far, which is similar across other licensed COVID-19 vaccines.

The company said additional testing has and is being conducted by the company and the European health authorities and none of the re-tests have shown cause for concern. The monthly safety report will be made public on the EMA website in the following week, AstraZeneca said.

(With inputs from agencies)