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European Commission Says AstraZeneca Not Obliged To Prioritise Vaccines For UK

The Guardian, UK: The European commission has denied that AstraZeneca has a contractual obligation to the United Kingdom that would prevent a full delivery of Covid-19 doses, deepening the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company’s problems as Germany and Canada became the latest countries to limit its vaccine for seniors over suspected links to a rare blood clotting disorder in younger people.

A spokesperson for the European commission on Tuesday contradicted the UK health secretary Matt Hancock’s claim that AstraZeneca’s deal with Britain would justify prioritised deliveries to the United Kingdom.

“AstraZeneca confirmed to us not being under any obligation to other parties that would impede to complete the fulfilment of its obligations”, the spokesperson said at a news conference.

The Oxford-developed vaccine is a cornerstone of the immunisation rollout in the UK and the EU, which has bought 400m doses, as well as the UN-backed Covax initiative, which aims to distribute vaccines to poorer countries.

As well as being the subject of an acrimonious tug-of-war between Britain and the European Union, however, the Anglo-Swedish company has been plagued with PR problems over trial data and safety reviews, not just in the EU but also the US, Switzerland and Norway.

On Tuesday, Canada became the latest country to suspend the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab for those under 55 as a precautionary measure, pointing to new data from Europe suggesting a link to a rare blood-clotting disorder.

“There is substantial uncertainty about the benefit of providing AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to adults under 55 given the potential risks,” said Dr Shelley Deeks, vice-chair of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which recommended the new guidelines.

Germany will from Wednesday administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab mainly for people over 60, after the country’s vaccination commission reported more cases of a very rare and specific type of blood clot in the cerebral veins in people who had received the vaccine.

Younger people, including those who have already received a first dose, will still have the option to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot after being advised on the risks by their GP, Der Spiegel reported. The chancellor, Angela Merkel, consulted on the issue with the heads of the country’s 16 states on Tuesday night.

Initially, Germany’s vaccine commission approved the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab in people under 65 only, citing insufficient data on its effects on older people. But the vaccine was cleared for all age groups on 4 March.

About 2.7 million people in Germany have been given a first shot of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in total, with about 800 people having received a second dose. The Paul Ehrlich Institute, the German medical regulatory body for vaccines, has recorded 31 cases of cerebral venous thromboses in those who have received the jab, 19 of which occurred together with lowered platelets (thrombocytopenia). Twenty nine of these cases were among females under the age of 70.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute reported nine deaths as a result of these side-effects. The latest data would suggest a risk of blood clots that could be as high as one in 100,000, higher than the one in one million risk believed before.

The British vaccine regulator, the MHRA, has reported only four cases of cerebral venous sinuous thrombosis cases in people who have received an Oxford/AstraZeneca shot between the start of the year and 14 March, compared with two cases among those who have had the Pfizer/BioNTech jab.

In a statement on 25 March, the MHRA said a rigorous scientific review did not suggest that blood clots in veins were caused by the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, and that there had been less than one in a million cases of the disorder in the UK.

There have also been reports in the US of immune thrombocytopenia in people who have received the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna shot, though the data does not show whether the problems were directly linked to the vaccine.

Several other European countries have already restricted the use of Oxford/AstraZeneca on people who are at a higher risk of dying from Covid-19: those aged 55 or older in France, 65 or older in Sweden and Finland, and 70 or older in Iceland.

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