Amid concerns over clotting risks, German and Canadian health officials have restricted usage of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in people under the age of 60 and 55, respectively.
Germany’s decision was recommended by the nation’s independent vaccine expert panel after its medical regulator released new data showing increased reports of cerebral sinus venous blood clots in people who received the AstraZeneca shot.
About 2.7 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in Germany to date, and as of March 29, 31 cases of the rare blood clots had been reported. According to the Paul Ehrlich Institute, seven of the nine people who died were women aged 20 to 63 years.
“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,” said Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn.
Shelley Deeks, MD, vice chair of Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization, said that the new data from Europe suggests the risk of blood clots may be as high as one in 100,000 – much higher than the previous estimate of one in 1,000,000.
At the same time, officials are concerned about adverse effects of the restrictions on the countries’ COVID-19 vaccination campaigns overall. “If people are not vaccinated, because use of the vaccine is suspended, or because of a drop in confidence in the vaccine caused by the decision, some of them will get ill from COVID-19; and some of them will die,” said Peter English, MBChB, MPH, the former chairman of the British Medical Association’s public health medicine committee. “Any decision to withhold the vaccine will directly cause excess, avoidable COVID-19 deaths.”