Berlin and Munich have banned AstraZeneca’s Covid jabs for under-60s over blood clot fears a day after Canada also stopped giving the vaccine to under-55s.
The suspension was taken as a ‘precautionary measure,’ Berlin’s health minister said, ahead of a meeting later today of 16 state representatives.
Earlier, the prestigious Charite hospital in Berlin announced it would no longer give AstraZeneca vaccines to women under 55 after sporadic reports of blood clotting events in younger women.
The jab has been engulfed by scandal about its safety after regulators across Europe claimed it was contributing to potentially deadly brain blood clots.
But the European Medicines Agency investigated the reports and found no reason to link the clots to the jabs, insisting that they were safe and people should keep getting them to prevent Covid-19. The UK and the World Health Organization agreed.
Scientists say the risk of blood clots is no higher than in the general population but Germany and Canada have reawakened the issue with surprise bans of the vaccine.
Germany has not put a national ban in place, and Chancellor Angela Merkel and her health minister Jens Spahn are expected to hold a press conference later.
This chart shows how Britain is still racing ahead of the EU in vaccinating its population against Covid-19, more than three months after the continent started its jab programme
Germany, as with many other countries on the Continent, has a spiralling infection rate amid a third wave of the virus
Women under 55 will not get the AstraZeneca jab at a top German hospital because of fears of blood clots, despite EU regulators’ ruling earlier this month that the vaccine is safe
‘We have no serious cases of side effects in Berlin,’ Dilek Kalayci, Berlin’s health minister, explained.
She said ‘everyone who has already received a first jab of AstraZeneca has very good protection’ but that there were new worries about possible side effects.
Germany’s medicines regulator the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI) has now reported 31 cases of blood clots in people who have received AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
The clots are reported as part of a routine system of logging every health problem that someone has after a vaccine to see if there are any trends.
Almost all of the clotting cases have reportedly been in younger and middle-aged women, prompting several German hospitals to suspend the use of the jab for women under 55 this week.
According to Ms Kalayci, Germany’s regional health ministers are meeting at short notice on Tuesday and a new recommendation is expected soon.
On Monday, Canada also recommended halting the use of the jab for under-55s ‘pending further analysis’.
Germany had been looking to increase uptake, with more than four million doses lying unused in the EU’s most populous country, despite Brussels crying foul over a lack of supplies.
Charite, which employs 19,000 people at its clinics, has ordered a the new ban along with a handful of other healthcare providers in Germany, including another Berlin hospital group which also operates care homes.
A Charite spokeswoman that none of their staff had suffered any complications after around 16,000 jabs were handed out to hospital workers, mainly AstraZeneca ones.
But the clinic nonetheless claims that the ban is ‘necessary because in the meantime further cerebral venous thromboses have come to light in women in Germany’.
One such case was a 47-year-old woman who reportedly died after developing a blood clot in the brain, although no link to the vaccine has been proven.
There was another case of a 28-year-old woman who developed a thrombosis after having the jab, but was said to be in a stable condition. Again no link to the vaccine was made.
Authorities in the district of Euskirchen said they had informed health authorities in Berlin about the two cases and stopped jabs for women under 55 in the meantime.
Others to have imposed the same new rule, including a university hospital in nearby Cologne, according to media reports.
EU regulators examined a series of reported blood clots across Europe earlier this month and found there was no increased risk, saying the number of clotting problems was actually lower than in the general population.
Safety experts at the European Medicines Agency said that ‘most of these occurred in people under 55 and the majority were women’.
But they did not recommend limiting use of the jab, saying the blood clots were ‘very rare cases’ and that the benefits of preventing Covid-19 were greater than the risks.
The blood clot issue mainly concerns a condition called cerebral sinus venous thrombosis (CSVT), in which a clot develops in the head and blocks a vein that drains blood from the brain.
If left untreated it can cause blood vessels to burst when pressure builds up, causing a haemorrhage and stroke.
Symptoms may include a severe headache, blurred vision, losing consciousness or seizures.
CSVT is rare, affecting around five people per million each year, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US.
Experts studying the rates of CSVT in people who have had the AstraZeneca vaccine found that it didn’t appear to be happening more often than would be normal.
Vaccine regulators in the UK saw five cases after 11million people had been vaccinated – a rate of around one per 2.2million, lower than Johns Hopkins’ normal estimate.
The Charite hospital in Berlin, a prestigious clinic which has previously treated Angela Merkel and Alexei Navalny among others, announced the ban on Tuesday
The EMA’s verdict prompted most European countries which had suspended AstraZeneca shots to start them up again soon afterwards.
That included Germany, which like France and several others had initially restricted the jab to under-65s because of limited trial data on older people.
France has since broken with the EMA’s guidance and banned over-55s from having the vaccine, in a 180-degree turn from its earlier position.
In addition, Canadian health officials said on Monday that they would stop giving the jab to under-55s and ordered a new analysis of the risks based on age and gender.
‘There is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks,’ claimed Dr Shelley Deeks of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
The repeated U-turns and doubts raised by top officials have been blamed in part for the low uptake of the AstraZeneca shot, which was approved in the EU in January.
Germany has received more than 3.8million doses of AstraZeneca despite the EU’s ongoing row with the firm over supplies.
But only 2.7million of these have been used, with fewer than 1,000 getting two doses – leaving more than a million shots lying unwanted.
Recognising the jab’s poor image, German officials have sought to boost uptake by reassuring the population that the vaccine is safe and effective.
But a poll published last week showed that some 55 per cent of Germans regarded the AstraZeneca jab as unsafe in the wake of the blood clot row.
The position was even worse in France where 61 per cent said it was unsafe, weeks after Emmanuel Macron claimed it was ‘quasi-ineffective’ in older people.
Germany’s slow vaccine roll-out and prolonged lockdown have piled pressure on Angela Merkel, pictured, who is set to leave office after September’s general election
By contrast, in Britain – which has never suspended use of the jab or limited it to certain age groups – only nine per cent said the AstraZeneca jab was unsafe.
The EU’s jab roll-out remains far slower than Britain’s more than three months after the bloc started vaccinating, leaving it vulnerable to a third wave.
Germany has given a first dose to barely 10 per cent of its population, reaching only 9.2million people compared to more than 30million in Britain.
While Germany has given higher priority to second doses than Britain, it is still barely ahead by that measure with 4.0million people fully vaccinated compared to 3.7million in the UK.
The slow progress means that nearly 90 per cent of Germans remain unvaccinated as infections climb rapidly in a resurgence blamed partly on the British variant.
Millions of Germans are facing tough new restrictions as cases rise, although Angela Merkel is struggling to persuade regional leaders to implement the new rules.
The chancellor last week had to abandon plans for an ultra-strict Easter lockdown which had been widely criticised as impractical.
France is also seeing a rapid increase in cases, which has already forced ministers to throw the Paris region back into full lockdown after months of a nationwide curfew.
The number of patients in French intensive care units yesterday surpassed the worst point of the country’s last coronavirus surge in the autumn of 2020.
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