More than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, have suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine amid fears the shot may have caused some recipients to develop serious blood clots.
Germany, Italy, France, and Spain on Monday became the latest nations to halt the rollout, following moves by Ireland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Norway, and The Netherlands.
Other countries have stopped using certain batches of the vaccine, which is jointly produced with the United Kingdom’s University of Oxford.
As fears grew, AstraZeneca said a review of its safety data revealed no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. The review covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the United Kingdom and the European Union.
The EU’s medicines regulator – the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also expressed confidence in the safety of the vaccine.
As of March 10, there were 30 reports of blood clots among almost five million people across Europe, according to the EMA.
But reassurances appear to have done little to calm doubts. These are the countries that have suspended use of the vaccine to date:
President Emmanuel Macron announced France was suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine at least until Tuesday afternoon when the European Medicine Agency is set to publish an opinion.
“The decision has been made… to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, hoping that we can resume it quickly if the judgement of the EMA allows it,” Macron told a press conference.
“We have a simple guide, to be informed by science and the competent heath authorities and to do it as part of a European strategy.”
The German government said it is suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine over new reports of dangerous blood clots in connection with the shot.
The health ministry said the decision was taken as a “precaution” and on the advice of Germany’s national vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation of the cases.
Italy’s medicines agency said it joined other European nations in blocking the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.
The move comes just days after Italy’s AIFA regulator banned the use of a single batch as a precaution, while insisting there was no established link to the alleged side-effects.
“AIFA has decided to extend the ban on the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine throughout Italy as a precautionary and temporary measure pending European Medicines Agency (EMA) rulings,” it said in a statement.
Spain is suspending the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for at least a fortnight, the health minister said.
“We have decided to temporarily suspend [use of the AstraZeneca vaccine] as a precaution for at least the next two weeks,” Health Minister Carolina Darias told reporters.
Indonesia’s health minister said on March 15 the country would delay administering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine due to the reports of blood clots among some recipients in Europe.
“To be conservative, the food and drug agency delayed implementation of AstraZeneca [vaccine] as it awaits confirmation from the WHO,” said Budi Gunadi Sadikin.
Indonesia received 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via the global COVAX vaccine-sharing programme this month and is set to receive some 10 million more in the next two months.
The Netherlands saw 10 cases of noteworthy adverse side effects, a Dutch drug watchdog said on March 15, hours after the government suspended the vaccine.
The Pharmacovigilance Centre Lareb said the reported incidents included cases of possible thrombosis or embolisms, but none included a lowered number of platelets, as has been reported in Denmark and Norway.
The vaccine will not be used until at least March 29 as a precaution.
Ireland announced on March 14 that it had halted AstraZeneca “out of an abundance of caution” after reports from Norway of serious blood clotting in some recipients there.
Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) recommended the suspension pending further information from the EMA.
“It may be nothing, we may be overreacting and I sincerely hope that in a week’s time that we will have been accused of being overly-cautious,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said.
Bulgaria on March 12 temporarily halted AstraZeneca after reports that a 57-year-old woman died hours after receiving a shot.
Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the AstraZeneca rollout would be paused “until all doubts are dispelled and as long as the experts do not give guarantees that it does not pose a risk to the people”.
The woman is believed to have died of heart failure; the autopsy found no blood clots.
Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced on March 12 it was delaying the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing the European countries’ moves.
DRC received 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses via the COVAX scheme on March 2, but is yet to start its inoculation programme.
“We hear that in Europe there are several countries that have suspended the vaccine. We are going to check to know more about this problem,” a spokesperson for Congo’s health ministry told Reuters news agency.
Thailand became the first country outside Europe to delay the AstraZeneca vaccine, on March 12 – the day its political leaders were due to have the first shots.
The suspension was brief, however, with the Thai government announcing on March 15 that political leaders would receive a dose of the vaccine the following day.
Romania temporarily stopped vaccinating people with one batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine – the same one in question in Italy – on March 11. Officials described the move as an “extreme precaution”.
The suspension will last until the EMA completes an inquiry.
Iceland on March 11 suspended jabs with the vaccine as it awaited the results of an investigation by the EMA.
Denmark on March 11 announced it was halting the use of the AstraZeneca shot for two weeks, following reports of blood clots in some people who had been vaccinated.
The Danish Medicines Agency later said a 60-year-old Danish woman who died of a blood clot after receiving the vaccine had “highly unusual” symptoms.
The woman had a low number of blood platelets and clots in small and large vessels, as well as bleeding, it said on March 14.
A few similar cases were found in Norway and in the EMA database of drug side effects, the Danish Medicines Agency added.
Norway also said it was suspending the use of the vaccine on March 11, as a caution amid the reports of possible serious side effects.
On March 13, Norwegian health authorities revealed three health workers – all aged below 50 – who had recently received the AstraZeneca vaccine were being treated in hospital for bleeding, blood clots and a low count of blood platelets.
It is not known if the cases were linked to the vaccine.
“We do not know if the cases are linked to the vaccine,” said Sigurd Hortemo, a senior doctor at the Norwegian Medicines Agency.
Before Denmark and Norway stopped their rollout, Austria on March 7 paused its use of a batch of AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.