The leaders of Italy and France today committed to ‘quickly’ resume inoculations of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine once the European regulator gives the all-clear.
Italian PM Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to roll the pitch for an imminent climbdown.
On a call the two leaders agreed they were ready to resume using the jab ‘quickly’ if the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives the green light on Thursday.
‘The preliminary statement today from EMA was positive,’ a statement from Draghi’s office said.
They are among a host of EU nations to have suspended use of the jab after some people it was administered to suffered blood clotting problems.
Boris Johnson, the UK’s medical regulator the MHRA and the World Health Organisation have insisted the vaccine is safe and continues to roll it out at pace.
It comes as a top European Commission official urged EU governments to stop sitting on their vaccine stockpiles as several countries suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine amid blood-clotting fears.
Stella Kyriakides, the health commissioner, said the bloc was in a ‘race against time’ to rollout out of the vaccine or face several more spikes in infections.
The EU has already seen a disastrous rollout of the vaccine across the continent, with just 8 per cent of adult receiving a jab compared to a third in the UK.
Italian PM Mario Draghi (right) spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron (left) on Tuesday over an expected climbdown on the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine
On a call Mr Macron and Mr Draghi agreed they were ready to resume using the jab ‘quickly’ if the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives the green light
Stella Kyriakides, the health commissioner, said the bloc was in a ‘race against time’ to rollout out of the vaccine or face several more spikes in infections
There have been supply problems with both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs, but it was revealed earlier that several countries including Germany are sitting on stockpiles.
‘Even with the immense and regrettable challenges around production capacity and deliveries, there are reports of unused reservoirs of vaccines across the EU, said Kyriakides following talks with European health ministers.
‘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.’
While Italy has used all of its Pfizer jabs, the country still has 250,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that it banned from going to Australia in storage.
According to The Times, there are some 14.2 million jabs (60 per cent) delivered to EU governments that are yet to be used.
Her comments came shortly after the European Union’s medicines regulator said it was still ‘firmly convinced’ of the benefits of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
Fourteen European countries including 12 EU members have now suspended their use of the shots altogether – with Sweden joining the list today – while another five have black-listed specific batches and a handful of governments outside Europe have also pulled the emergency brake.
EMA safety experts say a ‘very small number of people’ have come down with blood disorders but there is ‘no indication’ that these were caused by the jab, which has already been given to 11 million people in the UK.
Regulatory reports show that blood clot diagnoses are about equally likely after either the two jabs being used in the UK – slightly higher for Pfizer – and scientists insist the risk is no higher than a random person in the population could expect, meaning the vaccine remains safe
Figures from AstraZeneca and the European Medicines Agency show the number of blood clot-related conditions from 17million doses dished out in the UK and Europe up to March 13
‘We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19 with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death outweigh the risk of these side effects,’ said EMA chief Emer Cooke.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, UK regulator the MHRA and the WHO have all insisted that the vaccine is safe and that there is no evidence of a link to the sporadic blood clots.
This evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock reiterated the AstraZeneca was safe and urged people to get it when offered.
‘The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, we know that over 10million people have had it in this country. That’s what the British regulator says but also the World Health Organisation and even the European regulator,’ he said.
‘We keep the effects of these vaccines under review at all times and we know the AstraZeneca vaccine is saving lives right now. So if you get the call, get the jab.’
Italy earlier admitted that its suspension of AstraZeneca jabs was a ‘political’ move while French doctors accused Emmanuel Macron of ‘giving in to panic’ and a German lawmaker said the ban could cause a ‘catastrophe’.
Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended their use of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine over blood clot fears despite health bodies saying there is no link and cases trending upwards – threatening more lockdowns
Germany sought to justify its move by saying that one particular kind of blood clot, a ‘sinus vein thrombosis’, had occurred seven times among the 1.6million people vaccinated when only around one case would be expected.
By contrast, only four such cases have been identified in the UK out of 11million doses administered.
Nicola Magrini, the head of Italian medicines regulator AIFA, said politicians had come under pressure to call off the jabs after Germany and France made similar moves in what one Tory MP described as a ‘Brexit sulk’.
In Italy’s case, the suspension means around 200,000 fewer vaccinations this week, government sources said, expressing confidence that they could make up for the setback.
‘We got to the point of a suspension because several European countries, including Germany and France, preferred to interrupt vaccinations… to put them on hold in order to carry out checks. The choice is a political one,’ Magrini said in an interview with La Repubblica.
President Macron has previously undermined the efficacy of the jab, declaring it ‘quasi-ineffective’ for the over-65s – a position he also later rowed back from.