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‘No reason to stop AstraZeneca vaccine in France’- Minister

The health minister says the benefits of the vaccine greatly outweigh any risk at this stage as investigations continue after Denmark, Norway and Iceland temporarily suspended use

France has said there is no reason to suspend use of the AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, after three Nordic countries paused use of the jab as a precaution due to fears of rare but severe side-effects.

Health Minister Olivier Véran yesterday said that “the benefits brought by the vaccination are greater than the risk at this stage”.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine until further notice, after fears it may cause dangerous blood clotting issues in some people of which one person in Denmark died although no link has been confirmed.

Søren Brostrøm, director of the Danish health authority, said: “It is important to point out that we have not terminated the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine—we are just pausing its use.” 

Tanja Erichsen, head of the Danish Medicines Agency Lægemiddelstyrelsen, called for calm, and told Danish newswire Ritzau: “We don’t yet know whether the blood clots and the Danish death were caused by the vaccine. But that will now be thoroughly investigated as a matter of precaution.”

Austria has also stopped administering its latest AstraZeneca batch, after a 49-year-old nurse died of “severe blood clotting issues” 10 days after receiving the jab. Another person in Austria was admitted to hospital in connection with a pulmonary embolism, but is now recovering.

However, authorities have said no links have been established between the vaccine and the death.

 

Investigations underway but risk low

Mr Véran said that he had consulted the national medical body l’Agence nationale du médicament (ANSM), and said that the risk of such illness was not statistically higher for people who have been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab compared to people who had not.

He said: “Investigations are underway in France and abroad. The UK, which has vaccinated millions of people with the AstraZeneca vaccine, is continuing with its campaign and has not seen, on any scale, any serious side-effects.

“Out of 5 million people [vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab] 30 people showed blood clotting issues. This does not represent a statistically increased risk [compared to non-vaccinated people].”

Yet, the minister said that every case is analysed to determine if there is a causal link with vaccination.

Professor Allan Randrup Thomsen, a virologist at the University of Copenhagen, told the Agence France-Presse that ”it’s hard for me to believe there is a real problem”, as so many people had been vaccinated, with so few reports of serious side-effects.

But, he added: “It’s very important that a thorough investigation is performed.”

Of the situation in France, Mr Véran said: “If the situation changes, we will make decisions, but at this point there is no need to suspend vaccination.”

The minister continued: “I wish to remind you of the epidemic situation in our country. It is tense, and worrying. The tension in hospitals is real. The more the virus spreads, the more serious cases.”

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has also recommended that countries continue to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine, and said that the risk of “thromboembolic [blood clotting] events” was no higher than the risk among the general population, regardless of vaccination.

Vaccine fears

This is not the first time the AstraZeneca jab has proven controversial. 

It was first seen by some as less effective for people aged 65 and over in Europe, before further studies suggested that it was, in fact, effective.

Some recipients have also reported severe flu-like symptoms after receiving the jab.

Four other European countries - Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Luxembourg - have also suspended vaccinations from this most recent batch, which saw one million doses delivered to 17 countries.

Italy also banned the use of this latest batch “as a precaution”.

As of today in France, the latest figures show that 4,337,343 people have so far had at least one vaccination against Covid; and 2,089,694 people have had both jabs.

A total of 765,000 AstraZeneca vaccines were set to arrive in France yesterday and today. These will be sent to pharmacies and then allocated to GP surgeries.

Mr Véran said: “All the vaccinations that we have ordered are arriving, and almost all of the orders have been honoured.”

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