BERLIN — Germany, France, and Italy on Monday became the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators have said there is no evidence the shot is to blame.
Germany’s health minister said the decision was taken on the advice of the country’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven reported cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.
French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would likewise suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the European Union’s drug regulatory agency will weigh in on the vaccine. He said France hopes to resume using the formula soon.
AstraZeneca said on its website that there have been 37 reports of blood clots out of more than 17 million people vaccinated in the 27-country EU and Britain. The drugmaker said there is no evidence the vaccine carries an increased risk of clots.
In fact, it said the incidence of clots is much lower than would be expected to occur naturally in a general population of this size and is similar to that of other licensed COVID-19 vaccines.
The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization have also said that the data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunized.
The AstraZeneca shot has become a key tool in European countries’ efforts to vaccinate their citizens against COVID-19. But Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines are also used on the continent, and Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine has been authorized but not yet delivered.
In the United States, which relies on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, AstraZeneca is expected to apply any day now for authorization.
Denmark last week became the first country to temporarily halt use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent days to investigate. It said one person developed clots and died 10 days after receiving at least one dose. The other countries include Ireland, Thailand, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Congo, and Bulgaria.
Last week, Germany and France were among the nations that stuck by the shot, while Italy suspended only a specific batch of the vaccine. Britain is standing by AstraZeneca’s vaccine for now.
Most who received second shots got them on time
About 9 in 10 Americans who received mRNA vaccines between mid-December and mid-February have completed their immunizations, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.
They were punctual about getting punctured: Almost everyone got a second shot on time. Of 14 million people who had two shots, 96 percent did so within the recommended window. (That’s 21 days after the first Pfizer shot and 28 days after the Moderna shot, plus or minus four days.)
“These findings are incredibly reassuring as we continue to scale up our vaccination efforts,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky told reporters at a White House news conference. “They show that our systems are working and that people are taking vaccinations seriously.”
Most of those who hadn’t had a second dose remain within the allowable interval for a follow-up appointment. Only about 3 percent of people completely missed the appropriate window for a second dose. Walensky said “systems were in place” to ensure those missed doses did not go to waste.
More than 100 million Americans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, and vaccination rates have been increasing, to an average of 2.4 million shots daily in the past week. Also at Monday’s briefing, Andy Slavitt, the White House senior adviser to the COVID-19 response team, said Medicare’s reimbursement rates for administering vaccines would “nearly double,” from about $23 per shot to $40 per shot. Vaccines will remain free to the people getting them.
New lockdowns taking a toll on Europeans
A year after Italy became the first European country to impose a national lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the nation has fallen eerily quiet once again, with new restrictions imposed on Monday in an effort to stop a third wave of infections that is threatening to wash over Europe and overwhelm its halting mass inoculation program.
As he explained the measures on Friday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi warned that Italy was facing a “new wave of contagion,” driven by more infectious variants of the coronavirus.
Just as before, Italy was not alone.
“We have clear signs: The third wave in Germany has already begun,” Lothar Wieler, head of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, said during a news conference on Friday. Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary predicted that this week would be the most difficult since the start of the pandemic in terms of allocating hospital beds and breathing machines, as well as mobilizing nurses and doctors. Hospitalizations in France are at their highest levels since November, prompting the authorities to consider a third national lockdown.
Across Europe, cases are spiking. Supply shortages and vaccine skepticism, as well as bureaucracy and logistical obstacles, have slowed the pace of inoculations. Governments are putting exhausted populations under lockdown. Street protests are turning violent. A year after the virus began spreading in Europe, things feel unnervingly the same.
In Rome, the empty streets, closed schools, shuttered restaurants, and canceled Easter holidays came as a relief to some residents after months of climbing infections, choked hospitals, and deaths.
“It’s a liberation to return to lockdown, because for months, after everything that happened, people of every age were going out acting like there was no problem,” said Annarita Santini, 57, as she rode her bike in front of the Trevi Fountain, a popular site that had no visitors except for three police officers. “At least like this,” she added, “the air can be cleared and people will be scared again.”
NEW YORK TIMES
Facebook boosting efforts to help with vaccinations
Facebook said on Monday that it planned to expand its efforts to help get people vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The social network said it would roll out a new location-based tool to direct people to the clinics nearest to them that offer vaccinations, which users can find inside Facebook’s main app.
The company will also have an information center for COVID-19-related questions and data inside its Instagram photo-sharing app, building on a similar effort that Facebook introduced last year. And it will keep adding automated chat bots to WhatsApp, which can text users information on where to get vaccinated.
While Facebook previously allowed antivaccination groups on its platform to flourish, last year it pledged to remove COVID-related misinformation from its site. It also labeled posts related to the coronavirus with links to its official information center so it could direct people to sources like the World Health Organization.
But critics have said that false or misleading data about vaccines and the virus continues to be visible in private groups and pages on Facebook.
NEW YORK TIMES