MADRID (Reuters) – Spain will stop using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for at least two weeks, the government said on Monday, joining a growing list of European countries putting the brakes on the shot over concerns about possible side effects.
Earlier on Monday France, Germany and Italy joined Denmark, Norway and several others in halting use of the drug after reports of blood clots in some patients who had received the vaccine.
“We take this decision today in the interest of caution,” Health Minister Carolina Dias told a news conference.
She referred to “infrequent cases which are very few but very significant and have prompted Spain to join the other countries that have opted for this precautionary suspension.”
The top World Health Organization scientist reiterated on Monday that there have been no documented deaths linked to COVID-19 vaccines.
The WHO appealed to countries not to suspend vaccinations against a disease that has caused more than 2.7 million deaths worldwide.
Last week, Darias said her administration was monitoring the situation but had only detected light side-effects such as headaches, dizziness and intestinal trouble.
Nevertheless, several Spanish regions decided to stop using the vaccine until more information became available.
Europe’s EMA medicines regulator said it would meet on Thursday to analyse the situation and reaffirmed its view that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.
Spain has administered some 6.7 million vaccine doses, around 930,000 made by AstraZeneca.
Authorities are rolling out vaccines to key workers and elderly people, having inoculated the top priority group of nursing home residents and staff.
Early signs suggest the vaccination campaign is already helping to slow transmission, health officials have said, and the country’s infection rate over the past two weeks of 129 cases per 100,000 people is the lowest since August.
A total of 11,358 cases were reported since Friday, bringing the overall tally up to 3.19 million, while the death toll rose by 166 to 72,424.
(Additional reporting by Isla Binnie. Editing by Jane Merriman)