Germany to Bar AstraZeneca Vaccine for Those Under 60 Starting Wednesday
(Bloomberg) -- Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany will halt the use of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine for people younger than 60 starting Wednesday after a handful of new cases of severe blood clots emerged.
The policy change, endorsed by regional health ministers, is a fresh blow for the troubled Astra vaccine, and another threat to Europe’s inoculation drive, already hampered by delays, controversy and political battles.
Germany’s independent vaccination commission said the shot should only be administered to older people as the rare clotting detected predominantly occurred in recipients younger than 60.
“These are findings that we cannot ignore,” Merkel said late Tuesday, acknowledging that the latest development will increase public uncertainty. “We all know that vaccination is the most important tool against the coronavirus -- that we have different vaccines at our disposal is our good fortune,” she added.
Germany’s move marks a surprising about-face after health officials -- along with their European counterparts -- first endorsed the use of the Astra shot only for younger people due to a lack of data on the elderly. They later recommended its use for everyone. Then, earlier this month, a number of countries including Germany temporarily suspended the jab before reinstating it after the European Union’s drug regulator said it was safe.
Adam Finn, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Bristol, said there are other vaccines routinely administered that cause rare, severe side effects, and that in using them “we accept that the benefits greatly outweigh the risks.”
“We would all prefer to have drugs that are 100% safe but they don’t exist,” Finn said by email. “We need to stay focused on the need to prevent Covid-19 taking millions more human lives before it is brought under control and the only effective way to do that is through vaccination.”
In the U.K., Cabinet Minister Robert Jenrick said the vaccine is safe and “we are 100% confident in the efficacy of the vaccine.”
Germany’s vaccine agency reported a rare brain blood clot in 31 people who had been given the Astra shot, nine of whom died. With the exception of two people, all of the cases were women between the ages of 20 and 63. Around 2.7 million people in Germany have so far received the Astra shot.
“Vaccination rests on one principle, and that’s trust,” Merkel said. “We must be able to trust the vaccines.”
The data from German health authorities suggest that there has been more than one case of the rare blood clot per 100,000 people vaccinated with Astra. That’s a higher ratio than in the wider population, according to analysis earlier this month by the agency that advises the government on medicine safety.
Germany has administered at least one vaccine dose to about 11% of the population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. That’s roughly in line with the EU average, but lags far behind the 29% in the U.S. and 46% in the U.K.
The decision to change the guidance on Astra’s vaccine is another headache for Merkel, who’s already battling regional leaders over measures to contain a recent surge in infections. Elsewhere, France and Italy may announce new restrictions on movement later on Wednesday amid the increase in new virus cases on the continent.
The European Medicines Agency has alerted doctors to the latest blood-clot data, and amended the vaccine’s information notice. It said it can’t entirely rule out a link between vaccination and blood clots, including unusual cases in which patients have low levels of blood-clotting platelets.
Earlier this month, the EMA reviewed the blood-clot issue and concluded that the benefits of the Astra shot outweigh the risks. But it also recommended that a warning is added to make sure the public is better informed.
In Canada, some provinces halted Astra shots this week after the nation’s vaccine advisory committee recommended a pause on administering it to people under 55 years old. Norway has extended a pause on injections, while France and other countries have imposed age restrictions.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.