Several health authorities in Germany are again suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for residents under the age of 60 amid fresh reports of unusual blood clots in people who had recently received the shots.
Officials in Berlin, Munich and the eastern state of Brandenburg took the decision to temporarily halt vaccinations ahead of a meeting of representatives from Germany’s 16 states.
The country’s medical regulator said it had received 31 reports of rare blood clots in recent recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine by March 29. Nine of the people died and all but two involved women aged 20 to 63, the Paul Ehrlich Institute said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and health minister Jens Spahn plan to hold a news conference later on the outcome of their meeting with the states.
Reports of an unusual form of blood clot in the head, known as sinus vein thrombosis, prompted several European countries to temporarily halt the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this month. After a review by medical experts, the European Medicines Agency concluded the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks.
At the same time, the agency recommended that warnings about possible rare side effects should be provided to patients and doctors. Most European Union countries, including Germany, resumed use of the vaccine.
On Monday, Canada suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people under 55, citing new data from Europe.
“There is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks,” said Dr Shelley Deeks, vice chairwoman of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunisation.
She said the updated recommendations come amid new data from Europe that suggests the risk of blood clots is potentially as high as one in 100,000, much higher than the one in a million believed before.
Earlier on Tuesday, two state-owned hospitals in Berlin announced they had stopped giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to female staff members under 55. The heads of five university hospitals in western Germany called for a temporary halt to the vaccine for all younger women, citing the blood clot risk.
Dilek Kalayci, the Berlin state health minister, said the suspension of AstraZeneca vaccines for younger people was done as a precaution.
“We have not had a case of serious side effects in Berlin yet,” she said, adding that all those who had received the shot already could be assured that it provides good protection against coronavirus.
“Still, we need to treat it carefully and wait for the talks taking place at the federal level,” she said.
German news agency dpa quoted a spokesman for Munich, the country’s third-largest city, saying the suspension of AstraZeneca vaccinations for people younger than 60 would last “until issue of possible vaccine complications for this group of persons has been resolved”.
Some 2.7 million doses of the vaccine have been administered across Germany so far.