Wednesday 17 March 2021 10:07 am

EU leaders promise to U-turn on Astrazeneca ban if regulator clears it

France and Italy have signalled that they are prepared to U-turn on their suspension of the Astrazeneca Covid vaccine if the European regulator declares it is “firmly convinced” over the jab’s safety.

French President Emmanuel Macron and new Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said they would “promptly restart the administration of the Astrazeneca vaccine” if it was cleared by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) tomorrow.

Fifteen European countries have issued a temporary ban on the Covid vaccine made by the Cambridge-based company after several reports of blood clots among patients who had received the jab.

Sweden became the latest nation to join the growing list of countries suspending the vaccine yesterday. No blood clot-related cases have been reported in Sweden but neighbouring Norway and Denmark have each reported one death.

In a press conference yesterday, the EMA said there was “no indication” that Astrazeneca’s Covid vaccine causes blood clots among patients.

“We know that many thousands of people develop thousands of clots annually for many different reasons”, she said Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA.

She said the agency remains “firmly convinced” that the benefits of the Astrazeneca vaccine outweigh the risk of side-effects, adding that the number of thromboembolic was the normal level among the general European population. The EMA will make a decision on whether to order a continent-wide suspension of the jab tomorrow.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also called on countries to continue using the vaccine as investigations into the reports continue.

But suspensions of the jab across the bloc have sparked concern that the EU’s already sluggish vaccine rollout could be slowed even further.

Just 8.5 per cent of Europeans have received their first dose of a Covid vaccine, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker.

That compares to 24.8m people who have received their first injection in the UK — equivalent to around 37 per cent of Britain’s population.

The European Commission has urged governments to stop sitting on vaccine stockpiles as infection rates rise. Countries such as Germany, France and The Netherlands have distributed around half of their total supplies of the Astrazeneca vaccine, despite calls to speed up the vaccine rollout.

“We are racing against time and the rollout of vaccination is more than ever key to decrease the number of infected people as much as possible,” said Stella Kyriakides, the EU’s health commissioner.

Millions of Italians entered fresh restrictions on Monday following a 10 per cent spike in Covid cases last week, with the country set to enter its third nationwide lockdown over the Easter weekend next month.

Italy has used up all of its Pfizer doses as it scrambles to vaccinate the population before cases spread across the country, but just two-thirds of the Astrazeneca supplies delivered to the nation.

Nicola Magrini, head of Italy’s medicines agency, said that the decision to suspend vaccinations was “a political one” that Rome had reached only “because several European countries, including Germany and France, preferred to interrupt”.