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Factbox-Some countries limit AstraZeneca vaccine use, US pauses J&J shot

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(Reuters) -Some countries are restricting use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to certain age groups or suspending use after European and British regulators confirmed possible links to rare blood clots.

Denmark became the first country to stop using the vaccine altogether, as it said results of investigations showed “real and serious side-effects”.

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine has also been hit by concerns over blood clots, with European regulators reviewing such cases and U.S. federal health agencies recommending pausing its use for a few days. J&J noted no clear causal relationship had been established between the clots and its vaccine.

The developments pose a risk to vaccination plans in Europe.

Regulators have said the benefits of the AstraZeneca shot outweigh risks.

Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca said it was working with regulators to list the possible brain blood clots as “an extremely rare potential side effect” on the vaccines labels.

As of April 4, the European Medicines Agency had received reports of 169 cases of a rare brain blood clot known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), after 34 million doses had been administered in the European Economic Area. Most cases were in women under 60 years of age.

ASTRAZENECA VACCINE BEING USED, WITH OR WITHOUT RESTRICTIONS

AUSTRALIA

Said on April 8 it recommends people under 50 should get Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine in preference to AstraZeneca’s shot.

AUSTRIA

Has resumed use.

BRAZIL

Authorities said they would not limit use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying benefits outweigh risks.

BRITAIN

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said an alternative to the vaccine should be given for people under 30 where possible, but people should continue to have a second shot if they have received a first dose.

BULGARIA

Resumed inoculations from March 19.

CYPRUS

Resumed inoculations on March 19.

CANADA

Authorities said in early April they would pause offering the vaccine to people under 55 and require a new analysis of the shot’s benefits and risks based on age and gender. On April 13, the country said it had recorded its first case of blood clotting with low platelets.

ESTONIA

Suspended use of the vaccine for people under 60 on April 7.

FRANCE

Approved resumption of the vaccine on March 19 but said it should be given only to people aged 55 and over. On April 9, recommended that recipients of a first dose of the AstraZeneca shot who are under 55 should receive a second dose with a messenger RNA vaccine.

FINLAND

Resumed using the AstraZeneca vaccine from March 29, but only for people aged 65 and over.

GEORGIA

Has limited use of the vaccine following the death of a nurse from anaphylactic shock, and vaccinations will continue only in full-fledged medical centres, Russian news agency TASS reported on March 19.

GERMANY

Sticking to its guidance from March 31 to limit use of the vaccine to those aged over 60. On April 1, Germany’s vaccine commission recommended people under 60 who have had a first shot of the vaccine should receive a different product for their second dose.

HUNGARY

Continuing the vaccine’s rollout.

ICELAND

Resumed use on March 25 after suspending it on March 11.

INDONESIA

Resumed using the vaccine on March 22 but warned against its use in people with a low blood platelet count.

IRELAND

On April 12, the country said it was restricting use of the vaccine to those over 60.

ITALY

Has recommended the vaccine be used only for people over 60, the country’s top health adviser said.

LATVIA

Announced it was restarting administering the shots from March 19.

LITHUANIA

Restarted use on March 19.

MEXICO

Drug regulator Cofepris said on April 7 it did not “at this time” plan to limit the vaccine’s use but was investigating the information raised by Britain.

NETHERLANDS

Limited use of the vaccine to people over 60, the Dutch government said on April 8.

NORTH MACEDONIA

Health minister said on March 31 the vaccine would be limited to people aged over 60 as a precautionary measure.

PHILIPPINES

Suspended use of the vaccine for people under 60 on April 8.

ROMANIA

Has resumed use of the vaccine after temporarily stopping vaccinating people with one batch of the vaccine on March 11.

SOUTH KOREA

Resumed use of the shot for people aged 30 or older on April 12. On April 7, it had suspended providing the AstraZeneca shot to people under 60.

SPAIN

From April 8, it was giving the vaccine only to people over 60.

SWEDEN

Resumed use of the vaccine on March 25 for people aged 65 and older.

THAILAND

Began use on March 15 after delaying rollout the week before.

COUNTRIES WHERE ASTRAZENECA VACCINE USE SUSPENDED

CAMEROON

Suspended administration of the vaccine it was scheduled to receive on March 20 as part of the global vaccines sharing scheme COVAX, the health ministry said.

DENMARK

In a world first, Denmark decided to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine altogether after initially suspending use of the shot.

NORWAY

Authorities said on March 26 Norway would delay a decision on use of the vaccine, with a decision expected by April 15.

J&J VACCINE DELAYS AND RESTRICTIONS

UNITED STATES

On April 13, U.S. federal health agencies recommended pausing use of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine for at least a few days after six women under the age of 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving the shot.

EUROPEAN UNION

The company said it would delay the rollout of the vaccine to Europe, after regulators said they were reviewing rare blood clots.

Widespread use in the EU had not yet started after the company began delivering the doses in the week beginning April 12. The European drug regulator recommended storing doses already received until its safety committee issues an expedited recommendation

SOUTH AFRICA

Suspended use of J&J’s vaccine on April 13.

(Reporting by Pushkala Aripaka, Yadarisa Shabong, Manas Mishra, Vishwadha Chander, Amruta Khandekar and Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; editing by Josephine Mason, Alison Williams, Timothy Heritage, Larry King, Barbara Lewis)

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Factbox: Countries respond to heart inflammation risk from mRNA shots

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Some countries have halted altogether or are giving only one dose of COVID shots based on so-called mRNA technology to teens following reports of possible rare cardiovascular side effects.

Europe’s drug regulator said in July it had found a possible link between a very rare inflammatory heart condition and COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

However, the benefits of mRNA shots in preventing COVID-19 continue to outweigh the risks, European and U.S. regulators and the World Health Organization have said.

Here are some of the steps some countries are taking:

CANADA

The Public Health Agency of Canada said data suggested that reported cases of rare heart inflammation were higher after Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine compared with the Pfizer/BioNTech shots.

DENMARK

The Danish Health Agency said on Friday that it was continuing to offer Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to under-18s, and that a statement on Wednesday suggesting a suspension had in fact been a miscommunication.

FINLAND

Finland paused the use of Moderna’s vaccines for younger people and instead would give Pfizer’s vaccine to men born in 1991 and later. It offers shots to those aged 12 and over.

HONG KONG

A panel of health experts advising the Hong Kong government has recommended in September children aged 12-17 should get only one dose of BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine after reports of heart inflammation as a side effect.

NORWAY

Norway will hold off giving children aged 12-15 a second dose of a vaccine against COVID-19 until it has gathered more research. On Oct. 22 the health ministry said there was no urgency given that children have a low risk of falling seriously ill from COVID-19.

On Sep. 2 Norway decided on giving one dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to children aged 12-15.

SWEDEN

Sweden has extended the pause of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine beyond the original Dec. 1 deadline for people aged 30 and younger due to rare heart-related side-effects, the public health agency said on Oct. 21.

The agency said earlier in October that data pointed to an increase of myocarditis and pericarditis among youths and young adults vaccinated with Moderna vaccine Spikevax, and paused the use for all born 1991 or later.

SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa will start vaccinating children between 12 and 17 using the Pfizer vaccine, the health minister said, as the country looks to ratchet up inoculations ahead of final year examinations.

On the advice of its vaccine advisory committee the government would only give teenagers a single shot of Pfizer’s normal two-shot regime due to concerns that it may affect the heart.

UNITED KINGDOM

Britain has been offering all 12-15-year-olds a first a shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Second doses would not be offered to the age group until at least spring when there may be more data from around the world.

 

(Compiled by Antonis Triantafyllou; Editing by Joanna Jonczyk-Gwizdala and Tomasz Janowski)

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Hong Kong’s zero-COVID policy undermining financial hub status – industry group

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A financial industry group warned on Monday that Hong Kong‘s zero-COVID policy and strict quarantine requirements for international travellers threatens to undermine the city’s status as a financial hub.

The Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) said a survey of members, including some of the world’s largest banks and asset managers, showed 48% were contemplating moving staff or functions away from Hong Kong due to operational challenges, which included uncertainty regarding when and how travel and quarantine restrictions will be lifted.

Hong Kong has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in the world and is virtually COVID-19 free, however unlike regional rival Singapore, which is slowly re-opening its borders, the Chinese-ruled city has no public plan for opening up to international travellers.

Local leaders say their focus is removing restrictions on travel from Hong Kong to mainland China, which also has strict entry restrictions. At present travellers from Hong Kong to the mainland must still undergo quarantine.

“Hong Kong’s status as an (international financial centre) is increasingly at risk along with its long-term economic recovery and competitiveness as a premier place to do business,” Mark Austen chief executive of Asifma wrote in open letter to Hong Kong’s financial secretary Paul Chan.

The letter made a series of recommendations including publishing “a roadmap for exiting Hong Kong’s ‘zero-case’ based COVID-19 strategy beyond solely the immediate goal of opening borders with China”, as well as prioritising vaccinations.

Hong Kong has reported just over 12,300 cases since the start of the pandemic, mostly imported, and 213 deaths.

Regional rival Singapore is expanding quarantine-free travel to nearly a dozen countries, but authorities are grappling with how to do so while averting a surge of Covid-19 cases among older people and those with weak immune systems.

 

(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Red Cross urges action for Papua New Guinea as COVID-19 overwhelms health system

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Concerted international action is needed to support Papua New Guinea as a surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelms the Pacific country’s health system, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Monday.

Coronavirus cases in the island nation of 9 million have been surging in recent weeks, with 385 new cases recorded on Thursday, according to latest available government data.

There have been 26,731 officially confirmed cases and 329 deaths in the country 150 km (90 miles) north of Australia.

Less than 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data figures, although the government anticipated months ago that it would have enough shots by now for everyone who wanted to be vaccinated.

Misinformation, public apprehension, and logistical challenges with the rollout have slowed down vaccinations, the Red Cross said.

“Urgent efforts and further support are needed in healthcare to prevent a massive loss of life in the coming days and weeks,” Uvenama Rova, PNG Red Cross secretary general, said in a statement.

According to the PNG National Control Centre for COVID-19, all major hospitals have been hit with rising cases.

“We’re at the moment barely managing with the existing load,” Gary Nou, team leader for Emergency Medical Team at the National Centre, was quoted as saying last week in a statement on the centre’s website.

A medical team from Australia arrived in Port Moresby this month, and Britain was also to send a team.

While some other nations in the Pacific region, such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, have also had sluggish vaccine rollouts, the tiny nation of Palau had 99% of its population over 12 vaccinated by mid-October, while Fiji had 96% of eligible people with one dose, the Red Cross said this month.

 

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)

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