EMA COVID-19 Task Force Chairman Dr. Marco Cavaleri said his remarks about the AstraZeneca vaccine on June 13. He told the Italian newspaper La Stampa: "In a pandemic context, our position was and is that the risk-benefit ratio [for the AstraZeneca vaccine] remains favorable for all age groups."
The Italian newspaper then asked whether health authorities should eschew the AstraZeneca vaccine for those above 60 years of age. Cavaleri responded in the affirmative, saying: "Many countries, such as France and Germany, are considering it in the light of greater availability of mRNA vaccines."
The EMA official continued that it would be better for European countries to use mRNA COVID-19 vaccines such as those from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. According to the health official, this is because COVID-19 cases are dwindling and the younger population is less exposed to risks related to the disease.
Back in March of this year, Italy paused its COVID-19 inoculations using the AstraZeneca vaccine over reports of post-vaccination blood clotting. It resumed the use of the British vaccine the following month after the EMA insisted its benefits outweighed any risks. However, the regulator recommended that the vaccine be "preferably" used for people older than 60.
The Italian government announced during a June 11 news conference that it would limit the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people above 60 years old after a teenager who got the vaccine died. Reuters reported that 18-year-old Camilla Canepa died on June 10 after her May 25 vaccination. She suffered from low platelet count, brain hemorrhage and abdominal blood clots – which eventually led to her death.
Italian COVID-19 Emergency Commissioner Lt. Gen. Francesco Figliuolo told reporters during the June 11 briefing: "[The] AstraZeneca [vaccine] will only be used for people over 60." Italian Higher Health Council President Franco Locatelli, the government's chief medical adviser, added that people below 60 years old who had already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine should be given a different vaccine for their second dose.
While Italy limited its use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, other nations have removed it from their respective COVID-19 vaccination programs. Health authorities in Denmark, where the first cases of blood clots following AstraZeneca vaccination were reported, initially suspended the vaccine in March 2021. A month later, the Danish Health Authority (SST) announced that COVID-19 vaccinations will continue without the AstraZeneca vaccine.
In an April 14 statement, SST Director General Søren Brostrøm said: "Based on the scientific findings, our overall assessment is [that] there is a real risk of severe side effects associated with using the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca. We have, therefore, decided to remove the vaccine from our vaccination program. He added that permanently halting the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine "has been a difficult decision." But Brostrøm nevertheless continued that Denmark "[had] other vaccines at [its] disposal" such as the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. (Related: Denmark permanently stops rollout for AstraZeneca vaccine, citing concerns about blood clots.)
Meanwhile, Norway also followed the footsteps of its southern neighbor and suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine. According to a Bloomberg report, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg announced the suspension during a May 12 news conference. "The government has decided that the AstraZeneca vaccine will not be used in Norway, not even voluntarily," she told reporters.
Solberg's advice followed a recommendation by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) to suspend the vaccine's use in Norway's COVID-19 inoculation program. NIPH Infection Control and Environmental Health Division Director Geir Bukholm said on April 15: "We now know significantly more about the connection between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the rare and serious incidents of low platelets, blood clots and bleeding. Based on this knowledge, we have arrived at a recommendation that the AstraZeneca vaccine be removed from the coronary vaccination program in Norway." (Related: Norwegian health agency recommends banning AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine due to blood clot risks.)
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