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Which countries have stopped using AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine? – Al Jazeera English

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A small number of countries, mostly in Europe, have suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine amid fears the shot may have caused some recipients to develop serious blood clots.

Germany, Italy, and France on Monday became the latest nations to halt the rollout, following moves by Ireland, Bulgaria, Denmark, Norway, and The Netherlands.

Other countries have stopped using certain batches of the vaccine, which is jointly produced with the United Kingdom’s University of Oxford.

As fears grew, AstraZeneca said a review of its safety data revealed no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots. The review covered more than 17 million people vaccinated in the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The EU’s medicines regulator – the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – and the World Health Organization (WHO) have also expressed confidence in the safety of the vaccine.

As of March 10, there were 30 reports of blood clots among almost five million people across Europe, according to the EMA.

But reassurances appear to have done little to calm doubts. These are the countries that have suspended use of the vaccine to date:

France

President Emmanuel Macron announced France was suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine at least until Tuesday afternoon when the European Medicine Agency is set to publish an opinion.

“The decision has been made… to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, hoping that we can resume it quickly if the judgement of the EMA allows it,” Macron told a press conference.

“We have a simple guide, to be informed by science and the competent heath authorities and to do it as part of a European strategy.”

Germany

The German government said it is suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine over new reports of dangerous blood clots in connection with the shot.

The health ministry said the decision was taken as a “precaution” and on the advice of Germany’s national vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation of the cases.

Italy

Italy’s medicines agency said it joined other European nations in blocking the use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine.

The move comes just days after Italy’s AIFA regulator banned the use of a single batch as a precaution, while insisting there was no established link to the alleged side-effects.

“AIFA has decided to extend the ban on the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine throughout Italy as a precautionary and temporary measure pending European Medicines Agency (EMA) rulings,” it said in a statement

Indonesia

Indonesia’s health minister said on March 15 the country would delay administering AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine due to the reports of blood clots among some recipients in Europe.

“To be conservative, the food and drug agency delayed implementation of AstraZeneca [vaccine] as it awaits confirmation from the WHO,” said Budi Gunadi Sadikin.

Indonesia received 1.1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine via the global COVAX vaccine-sharing programme this month and is set to receive some 10 million more in the next two months.

Netherlands

The Netherlands saw 10 cases of noteworthy adverse side effects, a Dutch drug watchdog said on March 15, hours after the government suspended the vaccine.

The Pharmacovigilance Centre Lareb said the reported incidents included cases of possible thrombosis or embolisms, but none included a lowered number of platelets, as has been reported in Denmark and Norway.

The vaccine will not be used until at least March 29 as a precaution.

Ireland

Ireland announced on March 14 that it had halted AstraZeneca “out of an abundance of caution” after reports from Norway of serious blood clotting in some recipients there.

Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) recommended the suspension pending further information from the EMA.

“It may be nothing, we may be overreacting and I sincerely hope that in a week’s time that we will have been accused of being overly-cautious,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn said.

More than 17 million people throughout the UK and the EU have received a dose of the AstraZeneca shot to date [File: Stoyan Nenov/Reuters]

Bulgaria

Bulgaria on March 12 temporarily halted AstraZeneca after reports that a 57-year-old woman died hours after receiving a shot.

Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said the AstraZeneca rollout would be paused “until all doubts are dispelled and as long as the experts do not give guarantees that it does not pose a risk to the people”.

The woman is believed to have died of heart failure; the autopsy found no blood clots.

Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced on March 12 it was delaying the AstraZeneca vaccine, citing the European countries’ moves.

DRC received 1.7 million AstraZeneca doses via the COVAX scheme on March 2, but is yet to start its inoculation programme.

“We hear that in Europe there are several countries that have suspended the vaccine. We are going to check to know more about this problem,” a spokesperson for Congo’s health ministry told Reuters news agency.

Thailand

Thailand became the first country outside Europe to delay the AstraZeneca vaccine, on March 12 – the day its political leaders were due to have the first shots.

The suspension was brief, however, with the Thai government announcing on March 15 that political leaders would receive a dose of the vaccine the following day.

AstraZeneca has said there is no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots in those individuals who have received the shot compared with those who have not [File: Luca Zennaro/EPA-EFE]

Romania

Romania temporarily stopped vaccinating people with one batch of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine – the same one in question in Italy – on March 11. Officials described the move as an “extreme precaution”.

The suspension will last until the EMA completes an inquiry.

Iceland

Iceland on March 11 suspended jabs with the vaccine as it awaited the results of an investigation by the EMA.

Denmark

Denmark on March 11 announced it was halting the use of the AstraZeneca shot for two weeks, following reports of blood clots in some people who had been vaccinated.

The Danish Medicines Agency later said a 60-year-old Danish woman who died of a blood clot after receiving the vaccine had “highly unusual” symptoms.

The woman had a low number of blood platelets and clots in small and large vessels, as well as bleeding, it said on March 14.

A few similar cases were found in Norway and in the EMA database of drug side effects, the Danish Medicines Agency added.

Norway

Norway also said it was suspending the use of the vaccine on March 11, as a caution amid the reports of possible serious side effects.

On March 13, Norwegian health authorities revealed three health workers – all aged below 50 – who had recently received the AstraZeneca vaccine were being treated in hospital for bleeding, blood clots and a low count of blood platelets.

It is not known if the cases were linked to the vaccine.

“We do not know if the cases are linked to the vaccine,” said Sigurd Hortemo, a senior doctor at the Norwegian Medicines Agency.

The AstraZeneca shot is a ‘viral vector vaccine’, where a specially engineered virus that normally causes chimpanzees to get the common cold delivers genetic instructions to human cells to make the spike protein jutting out from the novel coronavirus’s surface [File: Jason Cairnduff/Reuters]

Austria

Before Denmark and Norway stopped their rollout, Austria on March 7 paused its use of a batch of AstraZeneca shots while investigating a death from coagulation disorders and an illness from a pulmonary embolism.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg also suspended the use of the batch singled out by Austria.

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CANADA STOCKS – TSX falls 0.14% to 19,201.28

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* The Toronto Stock Exchange’s TSX falls 0.14 percent to 19,201.28

* Leading the index were Stantec Inc <STN.TO​>, up 3.4%, Imperial Oil Ltd​, up 3.3%, and Corus Entertainment Inc​, higher by 2.9%.

* Lagging shares were Aphria Inc​​, down 14.2%, Village Farms International Inc​, down 9.9%, and Aurora Cannabis Inc​, lower by 9.4%.

* On the TSX 91 issues rose and 134 fell as a 0.7-to-1 ratio favored decliners. There were 24 new highs and no new lows, with total volume of 228.0 million shares.

* The most heavily traded shares by volume were Toronto-dominion Bank, Royal Bank Of Canada and Suncor Energy Inc.

* The TSX’s energy group fell 0.32 points, or 0.3%, while the financials sector climbed 2.46 points, or 0.7%.

* West Texas Intermediate crude futures rose 0.52%, or $0.31, to $59.63 a barrel. Brent crude  rose 0.4%, or $0.25, to $63.2 [O/R]

* The TSX is up 10.1% for the year.

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Air Canada signs C$5.9 billion government aid package, agrees to buy Airbus, Boeing jets

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By David Ljunggren and Allison Lampert

OTTAWA/MONTREAL (Reuters) -Air Canada, struggling with a collapse in traffic due to the COVID-19 pandemic, reached a deal on Monday on a long-awaited aid package with the federal government that would allow it to access up to C$5.9 billion ($4.69 billion) in funds.

The agreement – the largest individual coronavirus-related loan that Ottawa has arranged with a company – was announced after the airline industry criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government for dawdling. The United States and France acted much more quickly to help major carriers.

Canada‘s largest carrier, which last year cut over half its workforce, or 20,000 jobs, and other airlines have been negotiating with the government for months on a coronavirus aid package.

In February, Air Canada reported a net loss for 2020 of C$4.65 billion, compared with a 2019 profit of C$1.48 billion.

As part of the deal, Air Canada agreed to ban share buybacks and dividends, cap annual compensation for senior executives at C$1 million a year and preserve jobs at the current level, which is 14,859.

It will also proceed with planned purchases of 33 Airbus SE 220 airliners and 40 Boeing Co 737 MAX airliners.

Chris Murray, managing director, equity research at ATB Capital Markets, said the deal took into account the “specific needs of Air Canada in the short and medium term without being overly onerous.”

He added: “It gives them some flexibility in drawing down additional liquidity as needed.”

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was still in negotiations with other airlines about possible aid.

Canada, the world’s second-largest nation by area, depends heavily on civil aviation to keep remote communities connected.

Opposition politicians fretted that further delays in announcing aid could result in permanent damage to the country.

Air Canada said it would resume services on nearly all of the routes it had suspended because of COVID-19.

‘SIGNIFICANT LAYER OF INSURANCE’

The deal removes a potential political challenge for the Liberals, who insiders say are set to trigger an election later this year.

The government has agreed to buy C$500 million worth of shares in the airline, at C$23.1793 each, or a 14.2% discount to Monday’s close, a roughly 6% stake.

“Maintaining a competitive airline sector and good jobs is crucially important,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters, adding the equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit when the airline’s fortunes recovered.

The Canadian government previously approved similar loans for four other companies worth up to C$1.billion, including up to C$375 million to low-cost airline Sunwing Vacations Inc. The government has paid out C$73.47 billion under its wage subsidy program and C$46.11 billion in loans to hard-hit small businesses.

Michael Rousseau, Air Canada‘s president and chief executive officer, said the liquidity “provides a significant layer of insurance for Air Canada.”

Jerry Dias, head of the Unifor private-sector union, described the announcement as “a good deal for everybody.”

Unifor represents more than 16,000 members working in the air transportation sector.

But the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 10,000 Air Canada flight attendants, said the package protected the jobs of current workers rather than the 7,500 members of its union who had been let go by the carrier.

($1=1.2567 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Allison Lampert in Montreal; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Munsif Vengattil in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney)

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U.K. advises limiting AstraZeneca in under-30s amid clot worry

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LONDON —
British authorities recommended Wednesday that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine not be given to adults under 30 where possible because of strengthening evidence that the shot may be linked to rare blood clots.

The recommendation came as regulators both in the United Kingdom and the European Union emphasized that the benefits of receiving the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks for most people — even though the European Medicines Agency said it had found a “possible link” between the shot and the rare clots. British authorities recommended that people under 30 be offered alternatives to AstraZeneca. But the EMA advised no such age restrictions, leaving it up to its member-countries to decide whether to limit its use.

Several countries have already imposed limits on who can receive the vaccine, and any restrictions are closely watched since the vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than many others, is critical to global immunization campaigns and is a pillar of the UN-backed program known as COVAX that aims to get vaccines to some of the world’s poorest countries.

“This is a course correction, there’s no question about that,” Jonathan Van-Tam, England’s deputy chief medical officer, said during a press briefing. “But it is, in a sense, in medicine quite normal for physicians to alter their preferences for how patients are treated over time.”

Van-Tam said the effect on Britain’s vaccination timetable — one of the speediest in the world — should be “zero or negligible,” assuming the National Health Service receives expected deliveries of other vaccines, including those produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

EU and U.K. regulators held simultaneous press conferences Wednesday afternoon to announce the results of investigations into reports of blood clots that sparked concern about the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The EU agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Dr Sabine Straus, chair of EMA’s Safety Committee, said the best data is coming from Germany where there is one report of the rare clots for every 100,000 doses given, although she noted far fewer reports in the U.K. Still, that’s less than the clot risk that healthy women face from birth control pills, noted another expert, Dr. Peter Arlett.

The agency said most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination — but based on the currently available evidence, it was not able to identify specific risk factors. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the U.K., where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The reported cases of unusual blood clotting following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine should be listed as possible side effects of the vaccine,” said Emer Cooke, the agency’s executive director. “The risk of mortality from COVID is much greater than the risk of mortality from these side effects.”

Arlett said there is no information suggesting an increased risk from the other major COVID-19 vaccines.

The EMA’s investigation focused on unusual types of blood clots that are occurring along with low blood platelets. One rare clot type appears in multiple blood vessels and the other in veins that drain blood from the brain.

While the benefits of the vaccine still outweigh the risks, that assessment is “more finely balanced” among younger people who are less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, the U.K’s Van-Tam said.

“We are not advising a stop to any vaccination for any individual in any age group,” said Wei Shen Lim, who chairs Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization. “We are advising a preference for one vaccine over another vaccine for a particular age group, really out of the utmost caution rather than because we have any serious safety concerns.”

In March, more than a dozen countries, mostly in Europe, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said countries should continue using the potentially life-saving vaccine.

Britain, which relies heavily on AstraZeneca, however, continued to use it.

The suspensions were seen as particularly damaging for AstraZeneca because they came after repeated missteps in how the company reported data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and concerns over how well its shot worked in older people. That has led to frequently changing advice in some countries on who can take the vaccine, raising worries that AstraZeneca’s credibility could be permanently damaged, spurring more vaccine hesitancy and prolonging the pandemic.

Dr. Peter English, who formerly chaired the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee, said the back-and-forth over the AstraZeneca vaccine globally could have serious consequences.

“We can’t afford not to use this vaccine if we are going to end the pandemic,” he said.

In some countries, authorities have already noted hesitance toward the AstraZeneca shot.

“People come and they are reluctant to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, they ask us if we also use anything else,” said Florentina Nastase, a doctor and co-ordinator at a vaccination centre in Bucharest, Romania. “There were cases in which people (scheduled for the AstraZeneca) didn’t show up, there were cases when people came to the centre and saw that we use only AstraZeneca and refused (to be inoculated).”

Meanwhile, the governor of Italy’s northern Veneto region had said earlier Wednesday that any decision to change the guidance on AstraZeneca would cause major disruptions to immunizations — at a time when Europe is already struggling to ramp them up — and could create more confusion about the shot.

“If they do like Germany, and allow Astra Zeneca only to people over 65, that would be absurd. Before it was only for people under 55. Put yourself in the place of citizens, it is hard to understand anything,” Luca Zaia told reporters.

The latest suspension of AstraZeneca came in Spain’s Castilla y Leon region, where health chief Veronica Casado said Wednesday that “the principle of prudence” drove her to put a temporary hold on the vaccine that she still backed as being both effective and necessary.

French health authorities had said they, too, were awaiting EMA’s conclusions, as were some officials in Asia.

On Wednesday, South Korea said it would temporarily suspend the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in people 60 and younger. In that age group, the country is only currently vaccinating health workers and people in long-term care settings.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said it would also pause a vaccine rollout to school nurses and teachers that was to begin on Thursday, while awaiting the outcome of the EMA’s review.

But some experts urged perspective. Prof Anthony Harnden, the deputy chair of Britain’s vaccination committee, said that the program has saved at least 6,000 lives in the first three months and will help pave the way back to normal life.

“What is clear it that for the vast majority of people the benefits of the Oxford AZ vaccine far outweigh any extremely small risk,” he said. “And the Oxford AZ vaccine will continue to save many from suffering the devastating effects that can result from a COVID infection.”

Source: – CTV News

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