Germany, France, Italy and Spain suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after several reports of blood clots in people who received the shot in Europe.
The flurry of suspensions came after a number of other countries, mostly in Europe, halted their rollouts late last week.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has backed the use of the vaccine and said it has seen no evidence that the shot had caused clotting.
The UN health agency is reviewing the reports of possible side effects related to the shot and urged countries not to suspend vaccinations, as its top scientist said people should not panic.
The European Union’s medicines regulator said in a statement that it has not found any evidence of links between reported thrombosis cases and the AstraZeneca shot, saying that the shot’s benefits outweigh the risks and was safe to use.
The regulator is reviewing the shot and will issue a decision on any further action on Thursday, it said.
‘Clots In The Brian’
German Health Minister Jens Spahn said the country suspended the use of the shot on the advice of the national vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute.
The institute had called for further investigation into seven reported cases of clots in the brains of people who had received this vaccination.
“Today’s decision is a purely precautionary measure,” Spahn said.
French President Emmanuel Macron said the use of the AstraZeneca shot would be suspended as a precautionary measure until the European Union’s medicines regulator’s decision.
Macron did not elaborate on the reasoning behind the decision, but told a news conference he hoped France would be able to vaccinate with AstraZeneca shots again “soon”.
Italy’s medicines authority AIFA meanwhile said it was implementing its own suspension as a “precautionary and temporary measure” pending rulings by the EU regulator.
The announcement followed the seizure of hundreds of thousands of doses of the vaccine by Italian prosecutors in the northern region of Piedmont, where a teacher died following his vaccination.
Experts are investigating whether there is a connection between his death and the vaccination.
Late on Monday, Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias said the country was suspending its use of the vaccine for two weeks as a “precaution”.
Earlier in a statement, AstraZeneca said there was no evidence of an increased risk of clotting due to the vaccine.
It said that across the EU and United Kingdom there had been 15 events of deep-vein thrombosis (DVT) and 22 events of pulmonary embolism reported among those vaccinated.
“Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population,” said Ann Taylor, the firm’s chief medical officer.
“The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases and we are going beyond the standard practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety.”