Norway will delay a decision on whether to resume the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine until April 15, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) has said, amid continuing fears over blood clots.
Authorities on March 11 suspended the rollout of the vaccine after a small number of younger inoculated people were hospitalised for a combination of blood clots, bleeding and a low count of platelets, some of whom later died.
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The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to continue using the vaccine and said the benefits outweigh any potential risks. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has also declared the shot “safe and effective”.
“It is a difficult but correct decision to extend the pause for the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Geir Bukholm, Director of the Division of Infection Control at the FHI, said in a statement on Friday.
“We believe it is necessary to carry out more investigations into these cases.”
Norway is one of more than a dozen European countries to have suspended the rollout of the vaccine, although most have since resumed its use on the advice of the EMA. The shot remains on hold in Denmark, however, while other Nordic countries are just using it for older age groups.
AstraZeneca has said a review of safety data from more than 17 million people inoculated in Britain and the European Union showed no evidence the vaccine raised the risk of blood clots.
Norway has reported five cases in which healthy recipients of the vaccine were admitted to hospital with a combination of blood clots, bleedings and low platelets, three of whom have died.
Local health authorities think the individuals developed antibodies in an immune response, which stimulated blood platelets that in turn created blood clots, and later, lowered platelet counts.
A sixth person, who also got the vaccine, died from brain a haemorrhage in combination with a low count of platelets, health authorities have said.
Norway has been using vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna and hopes to use Johnson & Johnson’s once supplies become available in Europe.
The non-EU country is getting its vaccines via the European procurement programme, thanks to Sweden buying more shots than it needs and then passing them on to its neighbour.
Authorities want to ensure a thorough process so Norwegians keep their trust in the vaccination programme.
No link has been established with the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker’s vaccine, although a Norwegian medical team said it saw these rare but serious cases as the result of a “powerful immune response” triggered by the serum.
During the pause, Norway will continue its own investigations, await a new evaluation by EMA, and search for any more patient cases at home or abroad.
Despite a recent rise in cases, Norway has had some of Europe’s lowest rates of infections in the pandemic.