Europe’s reluctance to embrace the AstraZeneca vaccine took another turn today when a top German hospital banned shots for women under 55.
Berlin’s Charite Hospital – the prestigious clinic where Russian dissident Alexei Navalny was treated for Novichok poisoning last year – has announced a ban on sporadic new reports of blood clots in younger women who have had the shot.
Despite a series of authoritative statements from WHO, EU regulators, AstraZeneca and British scientists, the vaccine is safe and effective and the risk of blood clots is no higher than in the general population.
While Canada also banned the shot for under-55s on Monday, Germany had tried to increase the intake, with more than a million doses unused in the EU’s most populous country, despite Brussels crying terribly due to lack of supplies.
This graph shows how Britain is still at the forefront of the EU in vaccinating its population against Covid-19, more than three months after the continent began its vaccination program
Women under 55 will not receive the AstraZeneca shot at a top German hospital for fear of blood clots, despite EU regulators ruling earlier this month that the vaccine is safe
Charite, which employs 19,000 people at its clinics, has imposed a new ban along with a handful of other healthcare providers in Germany, including another Berlin hospital group that also operates nursing homes.
A Charite spokeswoman said none of their staff had suffered any complications after approximately 16,000 injections were given to hospital workers, mainly AstraZeneca.
But the clinic nonetheless claims that the ban is “necessary because even more cerebral vein thrombosis has been detected in women in Germany.”
One such case was a 47-year-old woman who reportedly died after developing a blood clot in the brain, although no connection to the vaccine has been proven.
There was another case of a 28-year-old woman who developed a thrombosis after the shot, but was reported to be in a stable condition.
Authorities in the Euskirchen district said they had informed health authorities in Berlin about the two cases and in the meantime stopped injecting women under 55.
Others who have imposed the same new rule include a university hospital in nearby Cologne, according to media reports.
EU regulators examined a series of reported blood clots across Europe earlier this month and found there was no increased risk, saying the rate of clotting problems was even lower than in the general population.
Safety experts from the European Medicines Agency said that “most of these occurred in people under 55 and the majority were women.”
But they did not recommend limiting the use of the shot, saying that the blood clots were ‘very rare cases’ and that the benefits of preventing Covid-19 outweighed the risks.
They also ruled out concerns by Austria and others that specific batches were faulty or related to a higher risk of complications.
Berlin’s Charite Hospital, a prestigious clinic that previously treated Angela Merkel and Alexei Navalny among others, announced the ban on Tuesday.
The EMA ruling prompted most European countries that had suspended AstraZeneca recordings to restart them shortly afterwards.
That included Germany, which, like France and several others, had initially limited the shot to individuals under the age of 65 due to limited research data on the elderly.
France has since broken with the EMA guidelines and banned people 55 and older, at an angle of 180 degrees from its previous position.
In addition, Canadian health officials said Monday they would stop giving the shot to young people under 55 and have ordered a new analysis of the risks based on age and gender.
“There is considerable uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55, given the potential risks,” said Dr. Shelley Deeks of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization.
The repeated turnarounds and doubts raised by top officials are in part due to the low uptake of the AstraZeneca shot, which was approved in the EU in January.
Germany has received more than 3.8 million doses of AstraZeneca, despite the EU’s ongoing dispute with the company over supplies.
But only 2.7 million of these have been used, with less than 1,000 receiving two doses – leaving more than a million shots unwanted.
German officials recognize the bad image of the shot and have tried to boost uptake by reassuring the population that the vaccine is safe and effective.
But a poll published last week found that about 55 percent of Germans considered the AstraZeneca shot unsafe in the wake of the blood clot row.
The situation was even worse in France, where 61 percent said it was unsafe weeks after Emmanuel Macron claimed it was “quasi-ineffective” in older people.
The slow roll-out of vaccines in Germany and the protracted lockdown have put pressure in the photo on Angela Merkel, who will leave office after the general election in September.
In contrast, in Britain – which has never suspended or restricted use of the shot to certain age groups – only 9 percent said the AstraZeneca shot was unsafe.
The rollout of the EU shot remains much slower than Britain’s, more than three months after the bloc began vaccinating, leaving it vulnerable to a third wave.
Germany has given just 10 percent of its population a first dose, reaching only 9.2 million people, compared to more than 30 million in Britain.
Although Germany has given higher priority to second doses than Great Britain, it is still barely ahead of that measure with 4.0 million fully vaccinated people, compared to 3.7 million in the UK.
The slow progress means that nearly 90 percent of Germans remain unvaccinated as infections are rapidly increasing in a resurgence partly due to the British variant.
Millions of Germans are facing harsh new restrictions as the number of cases grows, although Angela Merkel is struggling to convince regional leaders to enforce the new rules.
The Chancellor last week had to abandon plans for an extremely strict Easter lockout, widely criticized as impractical.
France is also seeing a rapid increase in the number of cases, which has already forced ministers to fully lock the Paris region again after months of nationwide curfew.
The number of patients in France’s intensive care units surpassed the worst point of the country’s latest coronavirus outbreak in late 2020 yesterday.