Major EU nations halt AstraZeneca as WHO says it is safe

Nina Larson - Agence France-Presse
Major EU nations halt AstraZeneca as WHO says it is safe
(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 23, 2020 shows an illustration picture of a syringe and a bottle reading "Covid-19 Vaccine" next to AstraZeneca company and University of Oxford logos. President Emmanuel Macron said on March 15, 2021, that France was suspending use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, pending a review of its safety by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
AFP / Joel Saget

GENEVA, Switzerland — The EU's largest countries joined a stream of states halting their rollouts of AstraZeneca jabs on Monday over blood clot fears, as the World Health Organization and Europe's medicines watchdog insisted it was safe to use.  

Both organisations will hold special meetings this week after a host of countries said they would stop using the vaccine pending further review.

The fresh suspensions were a major blow to a global immunisation campaign that experts hope will help end a year-long pandemic that has already killed over 2.6 million people and decimated the global economy. 

The three largest EU countries — Germany, Italy and France — all paused rollouts on Monday and were later joined by Spain, Portugal and Slovenia. 

The suspensions were not limited to Europe, with Indonesia also announcing a delay to its rollout of the jab, which is cheaper than its competitors and was billed as the vaccination of choice for poorer nations. 

But the WHO insisted countries should keep using the vaccine, adding that it had scheduled a meeting of its experts on Tuesday to discuss the vaccine's safety.  

"We do not want people to panic and we would, for the time being, recommend that countries continue vaccinating with AstraZeneca," WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said. 

"So far, we do not find an association between these events and the vaccine," she said, referring to reports of blood clots from several countries.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which is holding a special meeting on Thursday, echoed the WHO's calls for calm and said it was better to get the vaccine than not. 

"The benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of side effects," the agency said in a statement Monday.

The UK has doled out more than 11 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab — more than the entire EU — apparently without major problems.

'Waste of money'

As policymakers struggled to manage vaccine rollouts, Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas announced she had tested positive — underlining the continuing threat of the contagion.

She tweeted that she would continue to work virtually and the government added that she had "a low fever but no other symptoms and is generally feeling well".

Italy provided another reminder that the pandemic was far from over, most of the country re-entering lockdown on Monday with schools, restaurants, shops and museums closed. 

The streets of central Rome were quiet on Monday morning and businesses already battered by a year of anti-virus measures braced for another hit.

"I'm staying open because I'm selling cigarettes, otherwise it would not be worth it," said Rome coffee shop owner Carlo Lucia. 

"It's just a waste of money."

Meanwhile, intensive care doctors in Germany issued an urgent appeal for new restrictions to avoid a third wave as the British variant takes hold there.

Understanding Covid origins

More than 350 million vaccines have now been administered globally, but poorer countries are still lagging far behind.

Brazil, which has suffered one of the world's worst outbreaks, is attempting to redress the balance, announcing the order of more than 138 million jabs on Monday.

The European Union has approved four jabs so far, and is monitoring others — including Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

The Russian developers said on Monday they had reached production agreements in key European countries. 

The news came as the WHO said it had raised nearly $250 million in the past year from individual donors and companies towards battling the pandemic.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the fund's success proved "what we can accomplish together in times of need". 

More than a year after his organisation declared the coronavirus threat a pandemic, a much-anticipated report on the origins of Covid-19 is expected to be released this week. 

The report follows a fact-finding mission of international experts assembled by the WHO, which travelled in January to the Chinese city of Wuhan where the virus first emerged in December 2019. 

"Within the next few years, we're going to have real significant data on where this came from and how it emerged," said British zoologist Peter Daszak, one of the team members. — with AFP bureaus

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 24, 2021 - 2:16pm

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 24, 2021 - 2:16pm

A committee of US health experts declines to approve Pfizer booster shots for individuals at high risk of COVID-19 exposure due to their jobs, despite authorization from a different agency just the night before. 

The decision has contributed to growing confusion about the campaign for booster doses in the United States, which the administration of President Joe Biden announced in mid-August but has since lost momentum. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) committee voted Thursday to recommend a third dose of Pfizer's vaccine for people over age 65 and for those with underlying conditions who are at risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. — AFP

September 23, 2021 - 7:50am

The United States authorizes the use of boosters of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine for people aged over 65, people at high-risk of severe disease and those in high-exposure settings to the virus.

"Today's action demonstrates that science and the currently available data continue to guide the FDA’s decision-making for COVID-19 vaccines during this pandemic," says Janet Woodcock, acting head of the Food and Drug Administration. — AFP

September 22, 2021 - 8:18am

COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers are putting profit before lives, Amnesty International says, as it demands two billion doses for poorer nations by the end of the year.

The human rights group says in a new report that US President Joe Biden was expected to outline a pledge at the UN General Assembly to fully vaccinate 70% of the world's population by next September.

"We need leaders like President Biden to put billions of doses on the table and deliver the goods, otherwise this is just another empty gesture and lives will continue to be lost," Amnesty chief Agnes Callamard says.

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

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