Coronavirus

France suspends AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine over blood clot fears

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron CHRISTIAN HARTMANN POOL/AFP/File

France joined several European countries on Monday in suspending the use of the AstraZeneca anti-coronavirus vaccine. French President Emmanuel Macron said the ban would remain in place at least until Tuesday's meeting of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) which will decide on the treatment's safety. 

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"The decision has been made ... to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution," said Macron, speaking from a summit in the south of France. "We hope that we can resume it quickly if the judgment of the EMA allows it.

"We have a simple guide, to be informed by science and the competent heath authorities and to do it as part of a European strategy," Macron said, adding that the suspension would be until at least Tuesday afternoon.

Before Macron's announcement, firefighters in the Bouches du Rhone region of southern France were ordered to stop taking the jab after one officer was taken to hospital with irregular heartbeats after his first injection.

On Monday night, ahead of its meeting to analyse the flood of data, the EMA said the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.

The body said it would hold an extraordinary meeting on Thursday to clarify how to proceed.

Special meetings

Macron's intervention came a day after the French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, had defended the vaccine.

"At this stage, we must have confidence in this vaccine," Castex said on Sunday. "If not, we'll have delays with our vaccinations and French people will be less protected and the health crisis will last longer."

On Friday, the World Health Organisation said there was no reason to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine despite several countries such as Norway and Denmark postponing or limiting its roll-out following deaths and cases of blood clots among people who had been given the jab.

But on Monday night, the WHO boss, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said its vaccine safety experts would meet on Tuesday to discuss the AstraZeneca jab.

Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Italy have also suspended usage of the shot, which was jointly developed with the University of Oxford.

However, Spain's Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, who had been holding talks with Macron in the south-western city of Montauban, said that his country would also suspend the AstraZeneca jab.

This was a sudden U-turn just hours after he said Spain would continue to dispense the doses.

"It is important to give a message of guarantee and safety to the whole of the European population regarding the vaccination process," Sanchez had said earlier.

Investigation underway

Health authorities in Norway said on Monday that a health worker had died of a brain haemorrhage after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The authorities stressed that no direct link to the jab has been established. It was the third such fatality within a few days in the country. Other deaths have also been reported in Austria and Denmark.

The EMA said on Monday it was investigating the deaths to see if there is a link to the vaccine.

Macron conceded the government would have to decide within the next few days whether to impose tougher measures to stem rising numbers of the disease that had claimed more than 90,000 lives in France since January 2020.

"We need to look at the reality of the epidemic, town by town, region by region," he said.

Hospitals in the Paris region are close to capacity. Patients have been transferred out of the area to other parts of France to receive adequate care while other infection hotspots such as Calais in northern France and the Cote d'Azur in the south have been placed under weekend lockdowns.

Macron decided against a third national lockdown at the end of January. The government preferred to maintain its policy of a 6pm-6am nationwide curfew as well as keeping bars and restaurants closed.

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