AstraZeneca woes continue as Berlin, Canada suspend jab

Saleha Riaz
·4 min read

Watch: AstraZeneca vaccinations paused for Canadians under 55

Berlin and Munich have temporarily halted AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine for people under the age of 60, while Canada has suspended its use for those under 55, amid concerns it might be linked to blood clots.

The news comes after many European nations — including, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use of the jab for the same reason. Since then, the European Medicines Agency has declared the vaccine is safe.

In fact, along with the company many regulators have said the vaccine is acceptable, but the jab continues to come under scrutiny. Shares in AstraZeneca were down roughly 1.5% before the closing bell in London.

Meanwhile, the pharma company has told the European Union that it has no legal obligations to any buyers that would prevent the full supply of doses under its contract with the EU, a European Commission spokeswoman has said.

Germany

Berlin's health official, Dilek Kalayci, said its decision was taken as a precaution after the country's medical regulator announced 31 cases of rare blood clots in people who had recently received the vaccine, Euro News reported.

Nine of the people died. All but two of the cases involved women aged 20 to 63, the report said, adding that representatives from all of Germany's 16 states will meet soon to discuss the jab.

Canada

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization said "there is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks."

"Rare cases of serious blood clots… have been recently reported in Europe following post-licensure use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine," it said, adding that the jab was expected to make up a small proportion of the vaccines available for use in Canada and so the country's rollout will not be significantly delayed.

Europe

In Europe, Italy’s prime minister Mario Draghi received his first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Tuesday. Earlier in the month, AstraZeneca had denied reports it was stockpiling vaccines in the EU to export to Britain, after 29 million doses were found in a manufacturing plant near Rome.

The news further strained the company’s ties with the EU: the European Commission has blamed pharmaceutical companies — primarily AstraZeneca — for not delivering the promised doses to the EU.

The company has been defending its vaccine but one of the UK's top institutional investors recently told the BBC: "It's appalling the way AstraZeneca has been treated. I wouldn't blame them if they were thoroughly fed up and decided to bow out of the COVID vaccine business."

Most recently, an EC spokeswoman said “AstraZeneca confirmed to us not being under any obligation to other parties that would impede to complete the fulfilment of its obligations” to the EU.

This appears to contradict UK health minister Matt Hancock's comments on the company having an exclusive deal to prioritise supplies to Britain.

Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization said
Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization said "there is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks." Photo: Getty Images

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Earlier, UK business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the UK will only send doses of coronavirus vaccine doses abroad once it has inoculated its entire adult population.

“Our focus has to be to try to keep Britain safe,” he said.

He told Sky News: “Let's work through that vaccine programme, and then if there are surplus vaccines then we can share them... But there are no surplus vaccines [right now].”

More than 30 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine although analysis by the Financial Times found that London has lagged behind the rest of the country with around 79% of over-50s now vaccinated.

The Midlands has administered the highest number of jabs since the rollout began: about 88% of over-50s in the region have now received their first jab, the report added.

It was earlier reported that a third coronavirus vaccine from US firm Moderna (MRNA) will be rolled out in the UK from April and will join the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer (PFE)/ BioNtech (BNTX) jabs already being offered on the NHS.

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