Denmark becomes world's first country to stop using AstraZeneca vaccine

James Crisp
·3-min read
Copenhagen's Tivoli amusement part opened in March with a requirement that guests book ahead and provide proof of a recent Covid-19 test - Olafur Steinar Gestsson/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Copenhagen's Tivoli amusement part opened in March with a requirement that guests book ahead and provide proof of a recent Covid-19 test - Olafur Steinar Gestsson/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Denmark became the first country in the world to permanently stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine on Wednesday, as the European Commission president hinted that Brussels would not renew its contract with the company next year. 

Danish health authorities said they would stop using the Oxford University jab because of a possible link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST), a brain blood clot

Watch: Denmark ditches AstraZeneca's vaccine

Denmark was the first EU country to suspend the use of the shot on March 11. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said that the benefits of the vaccine, which is significantly cheaper than the others and easy to story, far outweigh the health risks. 

Some EU countries including France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands have introduced age restrictions on the jab’s use; limiting it to the over 55s and 60s. The UK has restricted it to the over 30s. Portugal has called on all EU countries to adopt the same over 60s only restriction as part of a common European approach. 

The decision will delay Denmark's vaccination scheme to early August rather than July 25 but the country is easing its lockdown restrictions as infections drop. 

Coronavirus Denmark Spotlight Chart - cases default
Coronavirus Denmark Spotlight Chart - cases default

Almost 1 million of the country's 5.8 million population have received their first shots, with 77 per cent getting Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine, 7.8 per cent Moderna's and 15.3 per cent AstraZeneca's.  

The Danish have now suspended the Johnson and Johnson vaccine after the company halted its EU roll out on Wednesday, amid US reports it could cause blood clots. 

An AstraZeneca spokesman said “We recognise and respect the decision taken by Sundhedsstyrelsen in Denmark. Implementation and rollout of the vaccine programme is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions.”

AstraZeneca is embroiled in a row with the European Commission over missed delivery targets. Brussels accuses the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company of breaking its contract, which it denies, and blames it for the slow start to its vaccination campaign. 

In Brussels, Ursula von der Leyen said the commission had to focus on “on technologies that have proven their worth” and added that mRNA vaccines such as BioNTech-Pfizer were a case in point. 

Her comments follow reports in Italy’s La Stampa that the commission would not renew its contract with AstraZeneca next year after the company fell short of delivery targets to the EU. 

“I want to thank BioNTech-Pfizer. It has proven to be a reliable partner,” Mrs von der Leyen said. 

A commission spokesman told the Telegraph, “We keep all options open to be prepared for the next stages of the pandemic, for 2022 and beyond. We can, however, not comment on contractual issues.”  

She said that negotiations had begun with Pfizer for a contract of 1.8bn doses over 2021-2023 with all production and raw materials being based in the EU. 

The commission has threatened to block the export of any AstraZeneca jabs from the EU until it fulfils the millions of outstanding orders. The UK argues it is entitled to a share of jabs produced at the Halix plant in the Netherlands after investing in its production capacity. 

EU leaders rebuffed a commission push for a broader export ban because Pfizer production is dependent on UK exports of some raw materials. 

The commission is seeking clarification from J&J about the company’s “completely unexpected” announcement of delays in COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to the EU, an EU official told Reuters on Tuesday.

EU governments reached a common position on plans for digital vaccination certificates, which could eventually pave the way to a vaccine passport system open to Britons hoping to travel to Europe. 

The EU-only plans must be agreed with MEPs before they can become law, which could be before the end of June. 

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