Denmark bans AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine after rare blood-clot concerns

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Denmark bans AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine after rare blood-clot concerns
A vial of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.Steve Parsons/Pool Photo via AP
  • Denmark on Wednesday became the first country to stop using AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Other shots are available, and older people have been immunized already, the health authority said.
  • Denmark did not rule out reintroducing the vaccine "if the situation changes."

Denmark has stopped using AstraZeneca-Oxford University's COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to stop using the shot entirely, but it did not rule out using it again later.

There is a "real risk of severe side effects associated with using the COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca," the Danish Health Authority said in a statement on Wednesday.

"We have, therefore, decided to remove the vaccine from our vaccination programme," it said, adding that it "may re-introduce the vaccine at a later date if the situation changes."

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Denmark put AstraZeneca's vaccine on hold on March 11 while the European Medicines Agency investigated reports of unusual blot clots in people who had received it.

The EMA said on April 7 that the vaccine's benefits in preventing COVID-19, a disease that can severely sicken and kill people, outweighed the risk of unusual blood clots in the brain, a very rare side effect. But individual countries can make their own decisions.

Soren Brostrom, the director-general of the Danish Health Authority, reasoned that while AstraZeneca's vaccine was effective, Denmark had other vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech available, cases were controlled, and older people who could benefit most from AstraZeneca's shot had already been immunized.

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Read more: COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker: AstraZeneca's shot proves safe and effective and is headed to the FDA

So far, about 16% of people in Denmark have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data. For comparison, about 36% of people in the US have received at least one dose.

Despite stopping the use of AstraZeneca's vaccine, the Danish Health Authority said it expected to have fully immunized all Danes over 16 years old by early August. People who have already had one dose of AstraZeneca's vaccine will get a second dose of an alternative vaccine, it said.

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Dr. Hilary Jones, a general practitioner in the UK, told "Good Morning Britain" on Thursday that Denmark could "regret" its decision if it experiences a third wave of cases. The vaccine's side effects "are very, very rare - one in a million," he said.

Other European countries have restricted the vaccine's use for certain age groups. The UK regulator recommended on April 7 that Brits under 30 be offered an alternative vaccine.

The European Union has struggled to secure enough vaccines for member states. There were already vaccine shortages following delays from Moderna, Pfizer, and AstraZeneca. And Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday paused its COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the EU following reports of unusual blood clots in the US.

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The European Commission, responsible for securing the bloc's vaccine supply, said on Wednesday that it planned to increase its supply of Pfizer's vaccine.

"We need to focus now on technologies that have proven their worth," Ursula Von der Leyen, the commission's president, said in a video statement, adding that "mRNA vaccines are a clear case in point."

Meanwhile, Jan Hamacek, the Czech interior minister, said on Twitter on Wednesday that Czechia would buy excess doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine from Denmark.

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"We are willing to buy AstraZeneca from Denmark," he said.

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