BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s vaccine committee, known as STIKO, on Tuesday recommended using AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine only for people aged 60 and over following further reports of a rare brain blood disorder.
“After several consultations, STIKO, with the help of external experts, decided by a majority to recommend the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine only for persons aged 60 years and older on the basis of available data on the occurrence of rare but very severe thromboembolic side effects,” it said in a statement.
German leaders were due to discuss the use of the Anglo-Swedish firm’s vaccine after several states said they would stop giving the shot to people under the age of 60 following the reports of the rare brain blood disorder.
Health Minister Jens Spahn was due to talk with his regional counterparts at 1800 CET (1600 GMT), a ministry spokesman said.
The meeting follows further reports by Germany’s vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), of cases of blood clots known as cerebral sinus vein thrombosis (CSVT).
PEI said it had registered 31 cases of CSVT, which resulted in nine deaths, out of some 2.7 million people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. With the exception of two cases, all reports involved women aged between 20 and 63.
Before STIKO issued its statement, several German states, including Berlin and Brandenburg, as well as the city of Munich, said they would stop giving the shot to people under 60.
State hospital groups Charite and Vivantes suspended vaccinations in female staff aged under 55, citing further cases of CSVT.
Because use of the vaccine in Germany was initially limited to those under 65, the shot has been administered among younger women, particularly medical staff and teachers.
“Regarding the question of administering the second vaccine dose to younger persons who have already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, STIKO will issue a supplementary recommendation by the end of April,” STIKO said.
Many European countries briefly stopped using AstraZeneca’s vaccine earlier this month while investigating rare cases of blood clots.
Both the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organization said this month the benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweighed the risks.
An EMA review covering 20 million people who took the AstraZeneca shot in Britain and the European Economic Area found seven cases of blood clots in multiple blood vessels and 18 cases of CVST.
AstraZeneca says its vaccine is safe and effective, citing extensive trial data. Millions of doses have been safely administered around the world.
Nearly all countries have since resumed use of the vaccine. But France broke with guidance from the EMA and said on March 19 it should only be given to people aged 55 or older. France said the decision was based on evidence that the clotting affected younger people.
Canadian health officials said on Monday they would stop offering AstraZeneca’s shot to people under 55 and require a new analysis of the shot’s benefits and risks based on age and gender.
Some 19,000 people work at the Charite hospitals and 17,000 at Vivantes, which operates clinics as well as care homes.
Tagesspiegel, which first reported the decision, said that around two-thirds of staff at Charite have been vaccinated so far, and 70% of those workers have received one shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder criticised the “back and forth” around the vaccine, saying all recommendations showed that the danger of severe illness from the coronavirus outweighed any side-effects linked to the shot.
“At some point we have to be able to administer it freely and say, ‘He who wants it and he who dares should be able to get it’,” he said.
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