Norway suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Norway suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine
Photo: THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP
Norway's health authorities said Thursday they were suspending the use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine as a precaution following Denmark's decision to do so over fears of a link to blood clots.

“We are pausing the AstraZeneca vaccination in Norway,” the director of infection prevention and control at the National Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Geir Bukholm, told reporters.

“We are waiting for more information to see if there is a link between the vaccine and this blood clot case,” he said.

Danish health authorities said Thursday they were temporarily suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine as a precaution after some patients developed blood clots since receiving the jab. One of the patients in Denmark died.

One case of blood clotting has been reported in connection to AstraZeneca vaccine in Norway, The Norwegian Medicines Agency (Legemiddelverket, NMA) told national broadcaster NRK. It is currently unclear whether the clotting was connected to the vaccine itself.

Since AstraZeneca was launched in Norway on 8th February the NMA has received 394 reports of suspected side effects, 15 of them serious.

This pause means that NIPH will stop sending the vaccine to municipalities and the doses that have been sent out to sites will not be used. Several municipalities and cities have already paused their vaccinations.

Currently no scientific link has been established between the blood clots and the vaccine. This is what Denmark, Norway and other countries will now begin investigating.

The vaccines manufacturer, AstraZeneca stated in a comment to news wire NTB that they believe the vaccine is safe.

“The safety of the vaccine has been studied extensively in clinical third-phase studies, and peer reviewed data confirm that the vaccine is generally well tolerated,” they said in a statement to NTB while emphasising they are aware of the Danish investigation.

So far 120,000 people in Norway have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. The suspension comes two days after NIPH said it was now recommending the vaccine for all people over the age of 18. Previously only health personnel and those under the age of 65 were offered the vaccine.

The suspension is expected to cause delays to Norway’s vaccination program. People waiting for both their first and second doses of the vaccine will now have to wait longer than expected.

“We will prepare an updated version of the vaccine delivery scenario,” Bukholm said at the briefing.

It is not yet known how the long the suspension will last. However, NIPH senior medical advisor Sara Sofie Watle Viksmoen told national paper VG “it won’t last for months.”

She also said it was a difficult decision to halt the vaccine in the midst of a pandemic but that the suspension was the lesser of the two evils.

The Norwegian Medicines Agency is working to collect all data and research to see whether the blood clots are directly linked to the vaccine. They have already been in contact with their Danish counterparts to get more information.

“This is of the highest priority, both in Norway, Denmark and the EMA (European Medicines Agency) said NMA director Steiner Madsen.

Madsen also said “It is very important to say that these are very, very rare side effects” .

There have also been reports from Austria of two young people getting blood clots, one fatal, after receiving vaccines.

However, the EMA has already concluded on Wednesday that the incidents in Austria do not appear to be related to the vaccine.

The EMA has said it is aware of Denmark’s decision to pause use of the vaccine but has not itself recommended countries suspend its distribution.

“There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine,” EMA in a statement.

“The position of EMA’s safety committee is that the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh its risks and the vaccine can continue to be administered while investigation of cases of thromboembolic events [blood clots, ed.] is ongoing,” it added.

EMA also wrote that “30 cases of vaccines were found in close to 5 million vaccinations”.

In addition to Norway and Denmark, Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Luxembourg are also pausing inoculations with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Germany and Sweden say that they will not be putting the vaccine on hold.


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