By Rhiannon Hoyle and Giovanni Legorano 

Australia, Belgium, Italy and Spain joined the U.K. and several other European nations in restricting the rollout of AstraZeneca PLC's Covid-19 vaccine, a day after European regulators said there may be a link between the vaccine and rare, but sometimes deadly blood clotting.

The restrictions deal separate blows to several national vaccine rollouts that had already been hampered by supply constraints and other delays.

Australia's immunization advisory body said Thursday that the AstraZeneca shot should preferably not be given to people under 50. The country has been betting heavily on locally made, AstraZeneca-developed shots. Australian officials said they would need to review their vaccine purchases and that the advice might delay how soon first doses can be offered to all Australians.

"It is an abundance of caution, and it's a caution that has been exercised consistent with many other countries around the world, and we would expect to see that also continue in other countries now making similar decisions," said Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Italy and Spain both said they would recommend the shot only for those over 60. Belgium set the bar at over the age of 55.

The recommendations followed advice in the U.K. on Wednesday restricting the AstraZeneca vaccine for people under 30, citing concerns that it may cause potentially deadly blood clots in very rare instances. The same day, the European Union's top medicines regulator said there may be a link between the shot and the rare blood clotting, although it didn't recommend any age restrictions for the shot. It said it continues to believe the benefits of the shot outweigh any risks.

AstraZeneca said both the U.K. and EU review "reaffirmed the vaccine offers a high-level of protection against all severities of Covid-19 and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks." It said it was working with regulators to change product information and working to understand "individual cases, epidemiology and possible mechanisms that could explain these extremely rare events."

Brendan Murphy, secretary of Australia's health department, said Australia would still have a big need for the AstraZeneca shot. "It is going to be a really important vaccine to vaccinate a significant proportion of the population," he said.

The German government, meanwhile, has already been recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine only be used in people age 60 and older. Anyone under that age can still get the vaccine if they want it, but at their own risk and after being informed about possible complications by a qualified health professional.

In most regions of Germany, eligible vaccine recipients include only those over 70 and people with chronic conditions such as asthma. Until recently, the small number of people who are eligible for any vaccine under Germany's strict prioritization system had been shunning AstraZeneca's shot, leading unused doses to pile up in the country's vaccination centers.

But there is still demand for the vaccine among younger and less vulnerable Germans. Confronted with the stockpile of shots, several states have allowed anyone over 60 to book an appointment for the unused AstraZeneca vaccines. Doses were snapped up within days.

Denmark suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations for anyone until later this month and is currently reviewing findings about possible complications. Norway has also stopped using the shot until at least April 15. Pending a review of the European Medicines Agency's latest advice on AstraZeneca, Sweden said it would continue to give the vaccine only to those over 65. Late last month, Canadian authorities recommended a halt on administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people under the age of 55.

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 08, 2021 13:18 ET (17:18 GMT)

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