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Italy halts AstraZeneca vaccine for under-60s

FILE PHOTO: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination in Fasano

By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) -The Italian government said on Friday it was restricting the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to people over the age of 60, after a teenager who had received the shot died from a rare form of blood clotting.

Camilla Canepa died on Thursday aged 18 after being given the vaccine on May 25, triggering a media and political outcry over the Anglo-Swedish company’s shot being used for adults of all ages despite previously-raised medical concerns.

“AstraZeneca will only be used for people over 60,” the country’s special COVID commissioner Francesco Figliuolo told reporters.

People under the age of 60 who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca should be given a different vaccine for the second dose, the government’s chief medical adviser Franco Locatelli said at the same news conference.

“The risk-benefit assessment has changed,” Locatelli said, without mentioning the death of Canepa, who suffered from a low platelet count, brain haemorrhage and abdominal blood clots.

AstraZeneca was not immediately available to comment.

Like many European countries, Italy briefly halted AstraZeneca inoculations in March over concerns of rare blood clotting problems, mainly in young people.

It resumed them the following month with the recommendation the product be “preferably” used for people over the age of 60, after the European drug regulator said the benefits of the jab outweighed the risks.

Several other European countries have also stopped giving the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to people below a certain age, usually ranging from 50 to 65.

However, as Mario Draghi’s government sought to ramp up its vaccination drive, some Italian regions launched “open days” where the AstraZeneca shot was administered to people of any age from 18 upwards.

These included young women who are the group considered most at risk of the extremely rare blood clotting disorders.

The inoculation events, often held during evenings and weekends, were partly aimed at preventing AstraZeneca doses going to waste amid widespread reports of older people spurning the product and cancelling their vaccination appointments.

Around 46% of people in Italy have received at least one vaccine dose, while 23% are fully inoculated, figures broadly in line with most other EU countries.

(additional reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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