EU AstraZeneca ‘panic’ ban to spark longer eurozone crisis and more euroscepticism

AstraZeneca: EMA says concerns are ‘not unexpected’

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More than a dozen EU member states have now suspended the use of the Oxford jab due to concerns about blood clots. Despite the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) advising against the suspension, EU leaders across the bloc have cancelled vaccination appointments this week.

The move will cost more deaths and a longer economic crisis for the eurozone, claimed Wolfgang Munchau, director of Eurointelligence.

He said: “The decision to ban AstraZeneca constitutes an act of political panic that will be hard to undo.

“It will lead to thousands of more deaths, longer lockdown, lower economic growth, and give people a rational reason to oppose European integration.”

In an emergency press conference on Tuesday, Europe’s medicines watchdog said the benefits of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine continue to outweigh the risks.

EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said there was no indication that the blood clot incidents, which he called “very rare” had been caused by the vaccine, but that experts were assessing that possibility.

Trust in the safety of the vaccines was paramount and the agency was carrying out a case-by-case evaluation, she said.

She said: “The benefits continue to outweigh the risks, but this is a serious concern and it does need serious and detailed scientific evaluation. This is what we are involved in at the moment.”

She added the results of its findings would be discussed during an EMA review on Thursday after which the results would be made public.

Ms Cooke also said there were similar reports about blood clots related to other coronavirus vaccines.

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When asked at the press conference about reports of blood clots in relation to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, she said: “We are looking at adverse effects associated with all vaccines.

“At the moment the current focus, because of the reported instances in Europe, is of the AstraZeneca (vaccine) but we have looked at the background rates for all the vaccines currently in circulation and it looks like there are similar numbers coming in across the world.

“But that’s something that will have to be evaluated by our committee.”

Global health experts came under increasing pressure on Tuesday to clear up questions over the safety of the Anlgo-Swedish jab.

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So far, a handful of cases of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts have arisen, compared with 45 million doses of various vaccines given in the European Union and its near neighbours. Germany has reported seven such cases, of which three died, out of 1.6 million people who received AstraZeneca.

The EU’s largest members – Germany, France and Italy – suspended use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine on Monday pending the outcome of investigations into unusual cases of a rare cerebral thrombosis in people who had received it.

The addition of Sweden and Latvia on Tuesday brought to more than a dozen the number of EU countries to act since reports first emerged of thromboembolisms affecting people after they got the AstraZeneca shot.

In the EU’s largest states, including Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, AstraZeneca has accounted for about 13-15 percent of shots given since the rollout started almost three months ago, with Pfizer-BioNTech making up the majority, according to official data.

Nicola Magrini, the director general of Italy’s medicines authority AIFA, told daily la Repubblica in an interview that the choice to suspend the AstraZeneca shot was “political”.

He said it was safe and said its benefit to risk ratio was “widely positive”. There have been eight deaths and four cases of serious side-effects in Italy following vaccinations, he added.

In France, Health Minister Olivier Veran told reporters the risk-reward ratio for the AstraZeneca vaccine remained positive.

Governments say they acted out of an abundance of caution but the move deprives them of vitally-needed doses to step up vaccination campaigns that have got off to a slow start due to scarce supply.

AstraZeneca said last week it would try to deliver 30 million doses to the European Union by the end of March, down from a contractual obligation of 90 million and a previous pledge made last month to deliver 40 million doses.

Still, the European Commission said on Tuesday it expects to receive more than 200 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech in the second quarter, putting the EU on course to meet its inoculation target.

The EU aims to vaccinate at least 255 million people, or 70 percent of its adult population, by the end of the summer. The bloc has administered 11 shots so far for every 100 residents, while Israel – a world leader in vaccination – has given 108 doses, according to Our World in Data.

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