More countries jump to suspend AstraZeneca jab amid thrombosis fears

By dpa correspondents

Cyprus, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden and Venezuela have joined the list of countries suspending the use of Covid-19 vaccinations made by the British-Swedish manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Cyprus is temporarily suspending AstraZeneca vaccinations until a review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is released, a spokesperson of the Cypriot Ministry of Health told RIK state radio on Tuesday.

Instead, Cyprus will seek to purchase 50,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia, though it will wait until EU health authorities sign off on the Russian vaccine.

Sweden also announced it would suspend vaccinations with AstraZeneca’s shot as a “precautionary measure,” chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said.

Latvia paused AstraZeneca vaccinations for two weeks, the head of the responsible health authority said on Latvian television. Its neighbour, Lithuania, is however sticking with the vaccine.

Thailand also stuck with the jab, as Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha became the country’s first person to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19 on Tuesday.

“I think this will give people confidence to receive the government’s vaccines,” Prayuth said after receiving the injection.

Earlier, Luxembourg’s Ministry of Health said the state would join the camp suspending the jab until the EMA report is available.

Meanwhile, Venezuela decided it will not authorize AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine in the first place, the Foreign Ministry cited Vice President Delcy Rodriguez as saying on Monday.

“Venezuela will not grant a licence to use the AstraZeneca vaccine due to adverse results around the world,” Rodriguez was cited by the ministry as saying.

The growing list of countries suspending the shot comes against the backdrop of reports of blood clots among people who received the vaccine.

A list of European countries, including France, Germany, Italy and Spain suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations temporarily on Monday. Use of the jab has also been paused in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands and Norway.

The EMA, which recommended the vaccine for approval in late January, has launched an investigation into the vaccine, as have national health authorities in several countries.

On Monday, the EMA said that it has so far not found any evidence the shot is to blame for reported thrombosis cases, but would continue its review, with a decision on further steps expected to be taken on Thursday.

The agency maintained that the vaccine was safe to use, saying that the benefits of protecting the population from Covid-19 far outweighed any possible side effects.

The British vaccine regulator also said the vaccine, which AstraZeneca developed in partnership with Oxford University, is not responsible for blood clotting, based on available evidence.

The suspension added yet another concern European countries have about AstraZeneca’s vaccine, as concerns about its safety have been circulating for weeks. At the same time, EU officials have been enraged at the company for failing to deliver batches as scheduled.

The European Union’s first ambassador to Britain said the decision to suspend the vaccine in European countries was not enforced by the bloc.

“It is not an EU decision: These are decisions taken by individual governments,” Joao Vale de Almeida told the BBC on Monday.

“All our governments are worried, concerned and focused on the safety of citizens; When doubts appear for whatever reason I think the principle of caution prevails,” he added.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab meanwhile reiterated claims that the vaccine was safe.

“Different countries have different approaches, but I can tell you crystal clear the UK regulator, the European EU regulator and the WHO all say the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and people should continue to take it,” he also told the BBC.

Experts sharply criticized the countries’ decision to suspend the roll-out of AstraZeneca vaccine.

“I think it is a disaster for the vaccination uptake in Europe, which is already on slightly unsteady ground in some countries,” Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at London’s Imperial College, told the BBC on Tuesday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said it would meet on Tuesday to review the available safety data on the vaccine, though its chief, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said there was no evidence of a link so far.

Meanwhile, German pharmaceutical company BioNTech and its US partner Pfizer agreed to accelerate the delivery of 10 million Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The doses, initially foreseen for the third and fourth quarter of the year, will now arrive by the end of June, according to the European Commission.

“It gives member states room to manoeuvre and possibly fill gaps in deliveries,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement.

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