Italy and France ready to restart AstraZeneca vaccinations if regulators give the green light


A vial of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at the Lochee Health Centre in Dundee, Scotland, Britain January 4, 2021.

Andy Buchanan| Pool | Reuters

LONDON — France and Italy say they are ready to quickly restart inoculation programs with the AstraZeneca vaccine if regulators confirm it’s still safe to use.

The preliminary statement from the European Medicines Agency on Tuesday was “encouraging,” the office of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Tuesday in a statement following a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron. It added that in the event of a positive conclusion by the EMA, France and Italy were ready “to promptly restart” inoculations with the vaccine.

The two countries are among more than a dozen that have suspended the AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot after reports of blood clots in a few of the citizens vaccinated.

Concerns over potential side effects from the vaccine emerged last week after a female died in Austria. Since then, more countries have reported cases of blood clots and an unusual number of platelets in a few patients. AstraZeneca said Sunday that of the 17 million people vaccinated in the EU and the U.K., there have been 15 events of deep vein thrombosis and 22 instances of pulmonary embolism, as per data received until March 8.

We are still firmly convinced that the benefits…outweigh the risk of these side effects.

Emer Cooke

Executive director at EMA

European health authorities are still of the opinion that the shot is good to use in the fight against Covid-19. The EMA said Tuesday that there is “no indication” so far that the reports of blood clots were directly caused by the vaccine.

“We are still firmly convinced that the benefits…outweigh the risk of these side effects,” Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA, said at a press conference.

She confirmed the institution is studying 30 reports of unusual blood disorders and that it will announce the outcome of this work on Thursday.

A group of EU countries, including Belgium and Poland, have kept administering the AstraZeneca shot. Those European countries that have suspended the vaccine are waiting for the EMA’s announcement to decide how to proceed.

In the meantime, the EMA is “worried there might be an effect on the trust of the vaccines,” Cooke said on Tuesday. 

The EU’s vaccination program has faced various hurdles. Doubts among the population about the safety of vaccines could derail the EU’s main target of having 70% of the adult population vaccinated by the end of the summer.

Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s commissioner for health, said Tuesday that “it is crucial that citizens can feel that they have the confidence and the trust in the vaccines that have been authorized by the European Medicines Agency, so that we can fight this virus together.”

As of Monday, more than 6 million EU citizens had received the AstraZeneca vaccine out of more than 46 million inoculations, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The European Commission also urged member states on Tuesday to use every single vaccine dose that they have access to.

The ECDC data shows that more than 62 million doses have been distributed to member states, showing that there are almost 20 million doses that have yet been administered.

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