More European nations suspend AstraZeneca vaccinations, Australia presses on

Ten European nations have suspended the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccination over concerns about side-effects including blood clotting.

ABC News reports the World Health Organization (WHO) is insisting there is no proven link between the vaccine and reported side-effects.

But Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have halted their use of the jab this week after Denmark and Norway stopped providing the vaccination last week over “isolated cases of bleeding, blood clots and a low platelet count”, Nine reports.

Dr Norman Swan, from the ABC’s Coronacast, says such suspensions will be common.

“We’re going to see this again and again as we roll out these new vaccines in vast numbers.”

He says the blood clotting is “almost certainly” coincidental, but it is important that the issue is dealt with “transparently”.

He says Scandinavian countries have some of the best health record systems in the world and a verdict on the safety of the vaccines is expected later this week.

Europe’s virus response has been slower than hoped due to shortages caused by problems producing vaccines.

Germany has warned that it is facing a third wave of infections, while Italy’s lockdown has been intensified.

In France, Paris hospitals are “close to being overloaded”, Reuters reports.

Read more: Overweight people should be vaccinated first

Australia’s primary virus response is 53.8 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 50 million of which will be made locally. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg this morning said Australia would not suspend its vaccination program, which has been criticised for being too slow.

“The European equivalent of the TGA (Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration) as well as the World Health Organization have said the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective, and there’s no evidence of causation between the vaccine itself and the blood clots,” he told Radio National.

Nationals senator Matt Canavan took to Twitter this morning to call for a pause to Australia’s vaccinations.

“We should pause the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine because almost every European country now has concerns over its safety. There is no imminent threat of coronavirus here so why would we blindly rush on when others are concerned?

“There will be further information from authorities on Thursday this week. What is the problem of pausing our rollout for a few days while we wait for this information?”

Dr Swan wants Australia’s much smaller batch of the Pfizer vaccinations to be used for frontline workers and their close contacts.

“This is the main game – to get to everybody who comes in contact with people from overseas and create barrier on barrier here. And in many ways … it’s a higher priority than giving it to aged care. If this escapes, it’s going to escape from the borders and we really need to have layer upon layer of protection there.”

He says the AstraZeneca vaccine should be used in aged care.

Testing has confirmed a security guard caught coronavirus from an overseas traveller while working at the Sydney’s Sofitel Wentworth Hotel.

Many nations are awaiting the assessment of the vaccine by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA has said that as of 10 March, 30 cases of blood clotting had been reported among nearly five million people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot in 30 European countries.

The WHO has appealed to countries not to suspend vaccinations.

“As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and stem severe disease from the virus,” said WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier.

The WHO said that as of 12 March, more than 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines had been administered globally with no deaths found to have been caused by any of them.

The United Kingdom, which has administered millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, said it had no concerns.

One of the three health workers hospitalised in Norway after receiving the AstraZeneca shot died, but authorities said there was no evidence that the vaccine was the cause. No more suspected cases had been reported this week.

Austria’s review of its AstraZeneca batch will take two weeks.

Read more: Vaccinations behind schedule, but Australians urged to travel

Meanwhile, the virus is out of control on Australia’s doorstep in Papua New Guinea. On Monday, Queensland health authorities found 250 positive COVID-19 results from 500 tests taken by PNG residents.

Australia will send a team of doctors to Papua New Guinea and consider fast tracking vaccine supplies for the country.

Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk said the surge in PNG COVID-19 cases presented “a real risk” to Australia, Nine reported. She has “major concerns” the virus could spread into Queensland.

Australia has committed $60 million to PNG’s COVID-19 response and $144.6 million for its vaccine rollout.

But PNG is not expected to receive COVID-19 vaccines before April.

Are you confident COVID-19 vaccinations will be taken up by enough Australians? Do you have reservations about receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine?

Read more: COVID vaccination or flu shot first?

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