Danish authorities have decided to extend the suspension of AstraZeneca for an additional three weeks as they continue evaluating the COVID-19 vaccine for potential risks. The country had temporarily blocked the use of the vaccines on March 11, after a woman died from blood clots just a week after inoculation.
Tanja Erichsen of the Danish Medicines Agency said that the suspension extension was decided on the basis of “presumed side effects” and argued that the possibility of a connection between very rare blood clot cases and the vaccine cannot be ruled out.
“Many may wonder whether we are overcautious. To that I will say, ‘You can say that.’ We have added extra precautionary principles… Right now, we believe that our basis for making a final decision on the further use of the COVID-19 vaccine by AstraZeneca is too uncertain… Many studies have been launched, but we do not yet have any conclusions. That is why we have decided to extend the break,” Danish Health Authority Director-General Soeren Brostroem told AP.
Around 150,000 people in Denmark have received a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Following Denmark’s March 11 decision, several European nations, including Sweden and Norway, also paused their use of the company’s vaccines.
After the European Medicines Agency gave a clean chit, some countries have resumed the use of AstraZeneca in their vaccination campaign.
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In Sweden, the country’s Public Health Agency stated that they will continue giving AstraZeneca shots to people aged 65 and older. The agency’s director, Johan Carlson pointed out that the potential side effects of the vaccine have not been seen among this demographic. AstraZeneca shots will remain on hold for those below the age of 65, however.
Norway has extended the suspension until April 15, with authorities saying that they need more time to confirm whether the risk of blood clotting exists. Geir Bukholm, Director of the Division of Infection Control at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI), stated that even though the decision was a difficult one to make, it was the right course of action, as more investigation needs to be conducted into the cases of side effects.
At the same time, European leaders are concerned about not receiving their contracted supply of the suspended product, and are thus considering strengthening export controls on AstraZeneca vaccines. The EU was on course to receive 30 million doses of the vaccines by March-end, less than one third of the original expected volume. Of the 300 million doses that AstraZeneca was contracted to deliver to the EU by the end of June, only 100 million are now expected to be supplied.
The EU is far behind the UK and United States when it comes to vaccinating its citizens, which many see as a black mark on a bloc deemed to be a developed region. Pressure is also mounting on state leaders over the slow vaccination drive.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a news conference, “I think it is clear that first of all the company has to catch up… [It] has to honor the contract it has with European member states before it can engage again in exporting vaccines… We want to explain to our European citizens that they [can] get their fair share.”