German health officials agreed Tuesday to restrict the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to people over 60, amid fresh concern over unusual blood clots reported in a tiny number of those who received the shots.
Health Minister Jens Spahn and state officials agreed unanimously to only give the vaccine to people aged 60 or older, unless they belong to a high-risk category for serious illness from Covid-19 and have agreed with their doctor to take the vaccine despite the small risk of a serious side effect.
The move follows the recommendations of Germany’s independent vaccine expert panel and comes after the country’s medical regulator released new data showing a rise in reported cases of an unusual form of blood clot in the head — known as sinus vein thrombosis — in recent recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Several German regions — including the capital Berlin and the country’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia — had already suspended use of the shots in younger people earlier Tuesday. That decision came after the country’s medical regulator said its tally of the rare blood clots reported by March 29 had increased to 31, out of some 2.7 million doses of AstraZeneca administered in Germany so far.
Nine of the people died and all but two of the cases involved women, who were aged 20 to 63, the Paul Ehrlich Institute said.
In a statement ahead of the announcement, AstraZeneca said tens of millions of people worldwide have received its vaccines, and noted that the EU regulator and the World Health Organization concluded that the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.
The company said it would continue to work with German authorities to address any questions they might have, while also analysing its own records to understand whether the rare blood clots reported occur more commonly “than would be expected naturally in a population of millions of people”.
On Monday, Canada also recommended halting the use of the jab for people under 55 “pending further analysis”.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has had a rollercoaster ride, with Britain, which developed it, staunchly supporting its use, South Africa outright rejecting it, and more than a dozen EU nations suspending shots in mid-March before most restarted rollouts with a patchwork of age restrictions.
France has limited its use to people over 55, while Spain to people under 65.
Germany’s vaccination campaign has been sluggish, with official figures showing around 11 percent of the population have received a first dose so far.
(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)