Denmark, Norway and Iceland temporarily suspended use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday over concerns about patients developing post-injection blood clots as the manufacturer and the drugs European watchdog insisted the vaccine was safe.
Denmark was the first to announce its suspension, “following reports of serious cases of blood clots” among people who had received the vaccine, the country’s health authority said in a statement.
He stressed that the decision was taken as a precaution and that “it has not been determined, at this time, that there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots”.
As of March 9, 22 cases of blood clots had been reported among more than three million people vaccinated in the European Economic Area, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said.
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Austria announced on Monday that it had suspended the use of a batch of AstraZeneca vaccines after a 49-year-old nurse died of “serious blood clotting problems” days after receiving an anti-Covid vaccine.
Four other European countries – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg – have also suspended the use of the vaccines in this batch, which was sent to 17 European countries and consisted of one million injections.
Denmark, however, suspended the use of all of its AstraZeneca supply, as did Iceland and Norway in subsequent announcements on Thursday, citing similar concerns.
The EMA said on Wednesday that a preliminary investigation had shown that the AstraZeneca vaccine batch used in Austria was probably not responsible for the nurse’s death.
“This is an extremely cautious approach based on isolated reports in Europe,” said Stephen Evans, professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
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“The benefit / risk ratio is still very favorable for the vaccine,” he said.
AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish company that developed the vaccine with the University of Oxford, has defended the safety of its product.
“The safety of the vaccine has been extensively studied in Phase III clinical trials and peer-reviewed data confirms that the vaccine was generally well tolerated,” a spokesperson for the group told AFP.
Britain, whose widely hailed vaccine rollout has been widely supported by the AstraZeneca jab, has also championed it as “both safe and effective.”
The Danish suspension, which will be reviewed after two weeks, is expected to slow the country’s vaccination campaign.
Denmark now expects to have its entire adult population vaccinated by mid-August instead of early July, the health authority said.
“We are of course saddened by this news,” said Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.
Frederiksen, who lobbied for the production of more vaccines and formed a controversial alliance with Austria and Israel to do so, defended the decision by Danish health officials.
“There is always a risk associated with vaccines,” she told reporters.
“Things are going well in Denmark, but there are some risks associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine that need to be looked into more closely. This seems to me to be the right way to go.”
The director of the Danish Health Authority, Soren Brostrom, stressed that “we have not ended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we are simply suspending its use”.
“There is a large body of literature proving that the vaccine is both safe and effective,” Brostrom said.
“But we and the Danish Medicines Agency must act on the basis of information about possible serious side effects, both in Denmark and in other European countries.”
Denmark said one person died after receiving the vaccine. The EMA has opened an investigation into this death.
In the Scandinavian country of 5.8 million people, around 25% of those who received a first dose received the AstraZeneca jab.
In total, 3.8 percent of the population received two doses of the vaccine and 13.4 percent at least one dose.