French PM Castex receives AstraZeneca shot in bid to 'restore public confidence'

·3-min read

French Prime Minister Jean Castex received the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on Friday in an event that was broadcast live on French TV as part of efforts to restore public confidence in the vaccine.

Castex, 55, received the jab at the Begin military hospital near Paris as France's medical regulator Haute Autorité de Santé ruled on Friday that use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in France could resume after a suspension of several days, but said it should only be given to people aged 55 and older.

The PM said on Thursday that he would receive the AstraZeneca vaccine in a bid to restore public confidence in the product after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said the jab was "safe and effective", and not associated with a higher blood clot risk after days of confusion.

More than a dozen nations including France had suspended its use following an investigation into reports of blood disorders. Reports of around 30 cases of rare brain blood clots, after millions of injections, sent scientists and governments scrambling to determine if there was a link.

But the EMA on Thursday came to what it called a clear conclusion that the vaccine's benefits in protecting people from coronavirus-related death or hospitalisation outweighed the possible risks.

Still, the EMA said a link between rare events of blood clots in the brain and the shot could not be definitively ruled out and that it will continue its scrutiny, along with the British Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

"This is a safe and effective vaccine," EMA director Emer Cooke told a briefing on Thursday. "If it were me, I would be vaccinated tomorrow."

France's health authority on Friday recommended that only people aged 55 and older should be given the AstraZeneca vaccine due to reports of blood clots.

It said its recommendation was based on the fact that the reports of blood clots that had prompted its suspension had only been seen in those aged under 55.

Explanations for patients

The EMA said it would update its guidance on the vaccine to include an explanation for patients about the potential risks and information for healthcare professionals, to help people recognise instances when they may need to seek medical assistance following a vaccination.

After the EMA move, others also sought to reinforce confidence in AstraZeneca's vaccine, which is seen globally as an important asset due to its relatively easy storage and transport requirements and inexpensive price, compared to mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.

"What we really should be focusing on is that this is incredibly reassuring. The processes are working, the safety monitoring that we all expect from our authorities is happening," Andrew Pollard, who runs the Oxford Vaccine Group, told BBC radio, after both regulators said vaccinations could continue after reports of blood clots. "We do need to continue to monitor safety, but in the end it's the virus we're fighting, not the vaccines."

Oxford University is partnered with AstraZeneca on the vaccine.

Other EU members follow suit

The end of AstraZeneca suspensions kicks off a test of public confidence, both in the shot and in drug regulators whose conclusions are under unprecedented scrutiny, as virus variants spread and the global death toll, now at nearly 2.7 million, rises.

Germany also resumed administering the AstraZeneca vaccine from Friday morning, while Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Italy would follow suit, echoing sentiments from Cyprus, Latvia and Lithuania.

Spain and Canada also gave its backing to the vaccine.

The World Health Organization, which this week also reaffirmed its support for the shot that remains a centrepiece of its COVAX vaccine sharing programme, plans on Friday to give an update on its vaccine advisory committee's own review.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)