AstraZeneca vaccinations to restart after EU agency deems jab safe

By Leonie Kijewski, dpa

Several European countries announced they would restart vaccinations with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) deemed it “safe and effective.”

The EMA statement came after an extensive review of possible blood clot risks, the agency’s chief said on Thursday, following reports that some people had developed blood clots in the period after having the injection.

France, Italy, Latvia and Bulgaria announced they would likely restart vaccinations using AstraZeneca’s drug on Friday following the EMA advice.

Spain would reportedly follow suit next week, according to El Pais newspaper.

In an effort to bolster damaged public confidence in the vaccine, French Premier Jean Castex announced that he himself would receive the injection on Friday.

Swedish health authorities said, on the other hand, that they would need “a few days” to assess the EMA report before lifting the ban on AstraZeneca. “The suspension remains for the time being,” Johan Carlson, head of the Swedish Public Health Agency, told reporters.

Germany will aim to restart vaccinations using AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Friday, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

The restart in Germany would come with new advice on the vaccine’s side effects, Spahn added.

Blood clot reports from several countries prompted governments around the world to halt inoculations with the AstraZeneca jab. This slowed down already sluggish inoculation campaigns in the European Union.

The EMA, which had approved the jab in January, launched a review of the risks.

“The committee has come to a clear scientific conclusion,” the agency’s chief Emer Cooke said when presenting the findings.

“This is a safe and effective vaccine. Its benefits in protecting people from Covid-19, with the associated risks of death and hospitalization, outweigh the possible risks,” Cooke said.

The agency’s committee concluded that the vaccine was not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots. “When you vaccinate millions of people, it’s invevitable that rare or serious incidences or illnesses will occur in the time immediately following vaccination,” she said.

However, the agency could not definitively rule out a link between cases of rare, very serious clotting disorders and the vaccine, and said it launched additional investigations to understand the issue.

The EMA therefore recommended issuing warnings by including the risks in the product information.

The World Health Organization has also recommended the continued use of the vaccine.

But while AstraZeneca’s jab received backing from the EU medicines agency, the company itself remains at loggerheads with the European Commission.

The commission – the bloc’s executive body – announced earlier on Thursday that it is preparing a formal letter to the pharmaceutical giant amid delivery delays, taking a first step in a dispute resolution process.

“We have the intention to send a letter to AstraZeneca, a letter that will permit us to engage in a dialogue with the company in the framework of a dispute resolution process,” commission spokesperson Eric Mamer told reporters.

The EU countries would still have to give their input to the letter, he said.

Within 20 days of notice, the chiefs of both sides – the company and the commission – would have to meet “and attempt to resolve the dispute by good-faith negotiations,” according to their agreement.

The commission maintains that AstraZeneca under-delivered on its promises, while the company argues that the contract only stipulates it has to make the best possible effort to deliver on envisaged doses. According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, the company would only deliver 70 million of a promised 180 million doses in the second quarter of the year.

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