Denmark, Norway and Iceland have said they are temporarily suspending inoculations with the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precautionary measure, after blood clots formed in several people who had received the jab.
Italy’s national medicines authority also said it was banning the use of one batch of the AstraZeneca shot after being notified of “some serious adverse effects”, but stressed the move was precautionary and no link had yet been established with the vaccine.
The Danish national health agency said on Thursday it had not established a link between the clots and the vaccine, but had asked regional authorities in charge of the vaccination programme to stop using the AstraZeneca shot for the time being.
It said it would reassess the situation in consultation with the Danish medicines agency in two weeks’ time, but stressed there was “good evidence that the vaccine is both safe and effective”.
Norway was suspending use of the vaccine “as a cautionary decision” after the Danish announcement, Geir Bukholm, the director of infection prevention and control at the Norwegian institute of public health, told a news conference.
Denmark’s health agency did not disclose how many reports of blood clots there had been but said one person had died. Austria has already stopped using the batch of AstraZeneca doses after a 49-year-old nurse died of “severe blood coagulation problems” days after receiving an anti-Covid shot.
Four other European countries – Estonia, Latvia, Luxembourg and Lithuania – have reportedly halted the use of the same batch AstraZeneca vaccines, consisting of 1m doses, which was sent to 17 countries.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said this week there was no evidence so far to connect AstraZeneca to the two Austrian cases. The number of people reporting clots after being given the shot was no higher than in the general population, it said, with 22 cases among the 3 million people who had received it as of 9 March.
AstraZeneca told the Reuters news agency that the safety of its vaccine had been extensively studied in human trials and that peer-reviewed data had confirmed the vaccine was generally well tolerated.
The company said earlier this week its shots were subject to strict and rigorous quality controls and that there had been “no confirmed serious adverse events associated with the vaccine”. It also said it was in contact with Austrian authorities and was supporting support their investigation.
Media reports in Italy said two police officers in Sicily, aged 43 and 50, had died as a result of “severe coagulation disorders” after reportedly being inoculated with doses from the batch 12 days ago. Prosecutors have launched an investigation.
Spain said on Thursday it had not registered any cases of blood clots related to the vaccine and would continue administering the shots.
The British government defended the Anglo-Swedish company’s vaccine, developed by Oxford university, and insisted it would continue with its own rollout.
“We’ve been clear that it’s both safe and effective… and when people are asked to come forward and take it, they should do so in confidence,” prime minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters.
Søren Brostrøm, the director of Denmark’s health agency, said the country’s decision had been taken because “we need to respond promptly and carefully when we have knowledge of possible serious side-effects. We need to clarify this before we can continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine.”
The Danish health minister, Magnus Heunicke, tweeted: “It is currently not possible to conclude whether there is a link. We are acting early, it needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
Danish media said the suspension meant people who have had an initial shot of the Anglo-Swedish vaccine would not receive a second jab for the time being and all AstraZeneca vaccination slots had been cancelled.
More than 142,000 people in Denmark have received a first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to figures from the state Serum Institut. The prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said the news was “of course regrettable, because we are so incredibly dependent on everyone being vaccinated”.
Denmark has been ahead of most of the rest of the EU27 with its vaccination programme and has already administered a first dose to about 13% of its population, prioritising care home residents, over-65s receiving daily help, healthy people aged over 85, healthcare workers, and people with underlying conditions that mean they are particularly at risk from infection.