Germany and Canada suspend AstraZeneca vaccine over safety concerns

30 March 2021, 18:09 | Updated: 30 March 2021, 19:19

Several health authorities in Germany and Canada are suspending the use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine
Several health authorities in Germany and Canada are suspending the use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Several health authorities in both Germany and Canada are suspending the use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine for some age groups due to safety concerns.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn and state officials agreed unanimously to only give the vaccine to people aged 60 or older, unless they belong to a high-risk category for serious illness from Covid-19 and have agreed with their doctor to take the vaccine despite the small risk of a serious side-effect.

The move follows the recommendations of Germany's independent vaccine expert panel and comes after the country's medical regulator released new data showing that a total of 31 unusual blood clots, including nine deaths, were reported by March 29 out of some 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca administered in the country.

And in Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation has recommended a pause on AstraZeneca vaccinations for people under 55 for safety reasons.

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In Canada, the advice still remains a recommendation and it is up to each of Canada's provinces to decide whether to follow it.

"There is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks," said Dr Shelley Deeks, vice chairwoman of Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunisation.

She said the updated recommendations come amid new data from Europe that suggests the risk of blood clots is potentially as high as one in 100,000, much higher than the one in a million believed before.

Several European countries that suspended using the vaccine over concerns it could cause blood clots have resumed administering it after the EU's drug regulator said it was safe.

Canada is expected to receive 1.5 million does of the AstraZeneca jab from the US this week.

The vaccine is used widely in Britain, across the European continent and in other countries, but its rollout was troubled by inconsistent study reports about its effectiveness, and then more recently a scare about clots that had some countries temporarily pausing inoculations.

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Reports of an unusual form of blood clot in the head, known as sinus vein thrombosis, prompted several European countries to temporarily halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month. After a review by medical experts, the European Medicines Agency concluded the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.

At the same time, the agency recommended that warnings about possible rare side effects should be provided to patients and doctors. Most European Union countries, including Germany, resumed use of the vaccine.

Earlier on Tuesday, two state-owned hospitals in Berlin announced they had stopped giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to female staff members under 55.

The heads of five university hospitals in western Germany called for a temporary halt to the vaccine for all younger women, citing the blood clot risk.

Dilek Kalayci, the Berlin state health minister, said the suspension of AstraZeneca vaccines for younger people was done as a precaution.

"We have not had a case of serious side effects in Berlin yet," she said, adding that all those who had received the shot already could be assured that it provides good protection against coronavirus.

"Still, we need to treat it carefully and wait for the talks taking place at the federal level," she said.

German news agency dpa quoted a spokesman for Munich, the country's third-largest city, saying the suspension of AstraZeneca vaccinations for people younger than 60 would last "until issue of possible vaccine complications for this group of persons has been resolved".

Some 2.7 million doses of the vaccine have been administered across Germany so far.