Mixed reactions as Germany suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Mixed reactions as Germany suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Germany has opted to suspend use of the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19, due to concerns about a possible link to blood clots. The move has attracted criticism from a number of high-profile experts. 

Germany temporarily suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

On Monday, Germany joined the Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and Norway in temporarily halting use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, after reports of blood clots in people who had recently received the jab. Later in the day, Italy, France and Spain all issued the same decision. 

Announcing the move, the Germany Health Ministry described it as a “precaution” on the basis of advice from the national health regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI). The government will now await the decision of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) who are to investigate within the next week and decide “whether and how the new information will affect the authorisation of the vaccine.” 

“After new reports of thromboses of the cerebral veins in connection with vaccinations in Germany and Europe, the PEI considers further investigations to be necessary,” the ministry said in a statement. Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn added that a causal connection “cannot be completely ruled out.”

So far, seven cases of cerebral vein thrombosis have been reported in Germany. Spahn described this as a “very low risk” compared to the 1,6 million jabs that have already been administered, but said that it would be above average if a link to the vaccine was found. The thrombosis identified is said to be a rare type, making the number of cases seem suspicious. 

AstraZeneca & EMA insist vaccine is safe

AstraZeneca has said there is no link between its vaccine and blood clotting and that the jab is safe. A spokesperson for the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company said that it had found no evidence of increased risk of blood clotting after analysing reported cases from more than 17 million doses. “In fact, the reported numbers of these types of events for COVID-19 vaccine AstraZeneca are lower than the number that would have occurred naturally in the unvaccinated population.” 

This message is being echoed by the World Health Organisation, the European Medicines Agency, governments and experts. The EMA is recommending that the AstraZeneca vaccine continue to be used, on the basis that there is no evidence that the jab poses a serious health risk and that its benefits outweigh the risks of side effects. Nonetheless, it will hold a special conference on Thursday to discuss its assessment of the vaccine. 

Suspension attracts criticism

Germany’s decision to suspend use of the vaccine has therefore attracted criticism from some high-profile experts, including Frank Ulrich Montgomery, the head of the World Medical Association. Montgomery told the Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland that “the fact that people get thromobses and pulmonary embolisms does not necessarily have anything to do with the vaccination.” 

“The bottom line is, unfortunately, that this good and effective vaccine is not gaining much acceptance among the population because of the fuss and the vaccination suspension in many countries,” he said. 

Politicians have also been critical. SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach described the move as a “big mistake” that would hold up the country’s vaccine rollout and cause uncertainty within the population, while his colleague Katarina Barley tweeted: “The latest generation of birth control pills has thrombosis as a side effect in 8 to 12 out of 10.000 women. Has that ever bothered anyone?” 

The Greens health expert, Janosch Dahmen, said that a suspension based on such a low number of cases was negligent in view of an oncoming third wave of coronavirus infections. He said that the move would signal “the next wave of tremors” in confidence in the federal government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis - especially since the PEI last week insisted that the jab was safe

The EMA is expected to announce the results of its investigations within a week. Although the decision to suspend is purely cautionary, health authorities in Germany have stressed that if anyone who has recently received the jab experiences acute headaches or blood spots on their skin, they should immediately consult with a doctor



Abi Carter

Abi studied History & German at the University of Manchester. She has since worked as a writer, editor and content marketeer, but still has a soft spot for museums, castles...

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SandyHannon2 14:30 | 18 March 2021

I am a 58 year old Australian Health Care Provider living in Frankfurt but not working. It is of course the duty of care of the Government to ensure vaccinations are safe and that regulatory bodies monitor this. However, there are often hidden comorbidities that individuals have, therefore remote risks of side effects. Why then cannot German residents who deems that they have assessed the risks and benefits of receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, be provided with a document stating this and access the vaccinations asap. This is a personal choice, as any vaccination is and should be. Do not stop vaccinations, the benefits are only ever going to outweighs the risks. Millions of people worldwide are dying from Covid.