German health officials suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine for those younger than 60 on Tuesday amid revived concerns over rare blood clots found in a small number of vaccine recipients.
Health Minister Jens Spahn and other officials unanimously voted to stop inoculating Germans under 60 with the AstraZeneca vaccine, with an exemption for those at high risk of serious illness who consent to knowing the uncommon side effects, The Associated Press reported.
“In sum it’s about weighing the risk of a side effect that is statistically small, but needs to be taken seriously, and the risk of falling ill with corona,” Spahn told reporters, according to the AP.
Germany’s independent vaccine committee STIKO agreed to delay the vaccine based on “the currently available data” on severe thromboembolic side effects occurring four to 16 days after vaccination “predominantly” in that age group.
STIKO plans to release recommendations for those under 60 who have already received the first dose of AstraZeneca’s vaccine by the end of April, according to CNBC.
The decision followed after two German cities, Berlin and Munich, stopped administering the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier Tuesday due to the concern over blood clot cases.
It also came after Germany’s medical regulator reported on Monday that the number of people with rare blood clots who took the vaccine reached 31. Out of those 31, nine people died. All but two of the 31 cases occurred among women aged 20 to 63, the Paul Ehrlich Institute reported.
In total, 2.7 million people have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the country, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
The suspension of the vaccine is another hit to AstraZeneca after the European Medicines Agency attempted to relieve blood clot concerns less than two weeks ago, following a series of temporary suspensions on the vaccine in European countries. Other regulatory agencies, including the World Health Organization, have also concluded the benefit of the vaccine outweighs the risk.
It also throws a wrench in Germany’s vaccination effort, with Spahn noting the ruling was “without doubt a setback.” But German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes the decision helps improve trust for the AstraZeneca vaccine.
“Everything is based on one principle and that is trust,” Merkel said at a news conference, according to CNBC. “Confidence arises from the knowledge that every suspicion is counted in every individual case.”
AstraZeneca, in a statement shared with The Hill said that it was examining its records from tens of millions of vaccinations to comprehend “whether these very rare cases of blood clots associated with thrombocytopenia occur any more commonly than would be expected naturally in a population of millions of people.”
“We will continue to work with German authorities to address any questions they may have,” AstraZeneca said.
The company reiterated its vaccine’s effectiveness, saying, “The extensive body of data from two large clinical datasets and real-world evidence demonstrate its effectiveness, reaffirming the role the vaccine can play during this public health crisis.”