Health And Family

EU countries to resume AstraZeneca jabs after 'safe' verdict

Danny Kemp - Agence France-Presse
EU countries to resume AstraZeneca jabs after 'safe' verdict
Vials with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine against the novel coronavirus are pictured at the vaccination center in Nuremberg, southern Germany, on March 18, 2021. Germany on March 15 halted the use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine after reported blood clotting incidents in Europe, saying that a closer look was necessary.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Leading EU countries said Thursday they would resume AstraZeneca vaccinations after the European medical regulator said the jab is "safe and effective" and not associated with a higher blood clot risk after days of commotion around the shot. 

The closely-watched announcement from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) came after the WHO and Britain's health watchdog both said the vaccine was safe, adding that it was far riskier to not get the shot as several countries face a worrying rise in coronavirus cases. 

After the EMA's announcement a raft of European countries said they would soon resume vaccinations, including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia and Bulgaria.

France on Thursday became the latest nation to toughen Covid restrictions, announcing a month-long limited lockdown for Paris and several other regions to try and stave off a third wave of infections that has overwhelmed hospitals. 

The EMA's chief Emer Cooke said Thursday that after an investigation into the AstraZeneca jab, its "committee has come to a clear scientific conclusion: this is a safe and effective vaccine".

"The committee also concluded that the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots," she added.

However, the agency said it "cannot rule out definitively" a link to a rare clotting disorder.  

The UK health regulator also said there were no links between blood clots and the Pfizer vaccine. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) repeated that it was better to take the AstraZeneca vaccine than not.

AstraZeneca's chief medical officer Ann Taylor said that "vaccine safety is paramount and we welcome the regulators' decisions which affirm the overwhelming benefit of our vaccine in stopping the pandemic".

However Norway and Sweden said they were not ready to resume using the vaccine.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said it "took note" of the EMA's ruling, but it was "premature" to draw conclusions and it would announce its own opinion by the end of next week.

Paris lockdown

The furore around the jab has marred the global vaccine drive aimed at ending a pandemic that has killed more than 2.6 million people, and comes as several countries report jumps in new cases.

After recording its highest daily caseload in nearly four months on Wednesday, France said it would impose a limited lockdown in the Paris region from Friday at midnight. 

The measures fall short of a full-blown lockdown, but will see non-essential shops closed and outdoor movement restricted in the affected regions, while schools are to stay open. 

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the new measures as well as saying he would get the AstraZeneca vaccine "to show that we can have complete confidence in it".

Bulgaria and Ukraine also readied for tougher restrictions to stem rising cases, while the WHO issued a grim update on ballooning infections in Central Europe and the Balkans.

'Italy's Wuhan'

So far, more than 400 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered globally, mostly in wealthier nations that have secured contracts with drug makers.  

AstraZeneca's shot, among the cheapest available and easier to store and transport than some of its rivals, has been billed as the vaccine of choice for poorer nations.

It is currently a vital part of Covax, which was set up to procure Covid-19 vaccines and ensure their equitable distribution around the world.

But countries ranging from France to Venezuela and Indonesia paused the rollout of the AstraZeneca jab after a small number of reports emerged of blood clots among people who had received the vaccine. 

France's Europe Minister Clement Beaune defended the decision taken by countries to suspend use of the vaccine and refer it to the EMA for safety checks, telling AFP it was "necessary in order to coordinate and remove the doubts".

In Britain, which did not halt the jab, officials insisted that an expected vaccine shortfall at the end of the month would not scupper plans to ease its virus restrictions in the coming months as the government has promised. 

US President Joe Biden meanwhile said his goal of getting 100 million vaccine doses administered in his first 100 days in office will be met on Friday -- far in advance of the original target.

The US, which has yet to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, also said it would send millions of doses to its neighbours Mexico and Canada, which have approved the jab.

Italy, the first European country to become engulfed by the pandemic, held a national day of mourning Thursday, with a ceremony in Bergamo, the northern city that became known as "Italy's Wuhan" — the Chinese city where the first Covid-19 cases were identified.

Italy chose March 18 for the memorial to coincide with the day in 2020 when the army had to step in to carry away scores of coffins from Bergamo's overwhelmed crematorium.

Images of coffin-laden camouflaged trucks crossing the city at night quickly became one of the symbols of the pandemic and still haunt the country today.

"We cannot hug each other, but this is the day in which we must all feel even closer," Prime Minister Mario Draghi said. — with AFP bureaus

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 18, 2021 - 9:14am

Pharma giants Sanofi and GSK said on July 29, 2020, that they have agreed to supply Britain with up to 60 million doses of a potential COVID-19 vaccine. The agreement covers a vaccine candidate developed by France's Sanofi in partnership with the UK's GSK and is subject to a "final contract."

This thread collects some of the major developments in the search for a vaccine to ease the new coronavirus pandemic. (Main photo by AFP/Joel Saget)

September 18, 2021 - 9:14am

A panel of leading US medical experts advising the government vote in favor of authorizing boosters of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for everyone aged 65 and up, as well as people at high risk of developing severe Covid.

The same committee however rejected an initial proposal, submitted by Pfizer and backed by President Joe Biden's administration, to fully approve boosters to everyone aged 16 and over. 

The decisions came after a day-long meeting full of data presentations and at times charged debate that was convened by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Tens of millions of Americans will soon be eligible for a third shot. — AFP

September 17, 2021 - 12:51pm

US medical experts will meet Friday to debate and vote on the controversial question of giving out booster doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine to the general population.

President Joe Biden's administration announced in August a plan to roll out third shots to everyone, not just the immune compromised already able to receive them, starting from September 20. 

But experts have since expressed reservations about whether they are required, amid concerns over global inequity, the greater need to vaccinate the unvaccinated, and possible increased risk of side effects. — AFP

September 16, 2021 - 5:21pm

China has fully vaccinated more than one billion people against the coronavirus — 71% of its population — official figures showed Thursday.

The country had mostly curbed the virus within its borders but is racing to get the vast majority of its population vaccinated as a new outbreak takes hold in the southeast.

"As of September 15, 2.16 billion vaccine doses have been administered nationwide," said National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng at a press briefing. 

Chinese health authorities said late last month that 890 million people in China had been fully vaccinated and two billion doses administered. 

The government has not publicly announced a target for vaccination coverage, but top virologist Zhong Nanshan said last month that the country is likely to have 80% of its population inoculated by the end of the year.

China is currently battling an outbreak of the Delta variant in the southeastern province of Fujian that has infected almost 200 people so far in three cities, many of whom are schoolchildren. — AFP

September 16, 2021 - 7:21am

Cuba says it would seek World Health Organization approval for two home-grown coronavirus vaccines it hopes to commercialize widely.

A vetting process will start Thursday with WHO experts examining the nation's Abdala and Soberana 02 jabs, says Rolando Perez of state pharma group BioCubaFarma.

Perez says the experts would examine the vaccines' "safety, immunogenicity (the ability of a vaccine to provoke an immune response) and efficacy." — AFP

September 15, 2021 - 6:09pm

The European Union is to donate another 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to low-income countries, more than doubling its present pledge, the bloc's chief says.

The extra doses announced by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen come on top of 250 million shots the EU has already promised to give to other countries, particularly ones in Africa.

"I can announce today that the commission will add a new donation of another 200 million doses until the middle of next year," she tells the European Parliament in her annual State of the European Union address. — AFP

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