Denmark has become the first country in the European Union to drop AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine from its Covid-19 inoculation program amid concerns over serious side effects.
The Danish Health Authority will “continue the rollout of its vaccination program without AstraZeneca,” according to a statement on Wednesday.
“There is a link between rare, but serious” side effects and the Covid-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca, the authority said. It listed the risk of blood clots, hemorrhaging and a low number of blood platelets.
In a written statement, an AstraZeneca spokesperson said, “We recognize and respect the decision” taken by the Danish Health Authority. “Implementation and rollout of the vaccine program is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities to provide all available data to inform their decisions.”
Denmark has defended one of the EU’s most cautious strategies in fighting the pandemic since the coronavirus hit the continent more than a year ago. It was among the first to impose a lockdown and to shut its borders. The government then made international headlines when it wiped out Denmark’s entire mink population out of fear the animals might help the spread of coronavirus mutations.
Soren Brostrom, the head of the Danish Health Authority, said on Wednesday that his “best estimate” based on local research suggests a 1-in-40,000 risk of getting a blood clot after an Astra shot. He also said the higher incidence of clotting among younger women appears to be linked to the fact that a lot of health-care workers were inoculated early on, many of whom are female.
Denmark’s ability so far to keep the virus in check also fed into the health authority’s decision, and gives it some leeway to delay its vaccination program, Brostrom said.
Meanwhile, a number of countries have already said they will approach Denmark to ask whether they can buy its unused Astra shots, of which it has about 200,000. Brostrom signaled he was open to the idea, but said Denmark would keep some doses, in case it suddenly finds itself fighting an intense third wave. About a third of the existing batch only has a shelf-life until June, Brostrom said.
Denmark was one of the first countries to suspend the Astra vaccine on March 11 after reports of blood clots. At the time, the Danish Health Authority called the decision a precautionary move and reiterated its view that the vaccine was “effective and safe.”
Both European and British drug regulators have said they found a link between Astra’s vaccine and blood clots, but said benefits still outweigh the risks. Most Western European countries have limited their use of the company’s vaccine to the elderly, while in Eastern Europe, Astra has largely been reinstated with no limitations.
Denmark’s Scandinavian neighbor, Norway, which has also kept Astra on hold since last month, is due to announce its decision on Thursday.
Danish authorities said that people who have already received a first Astra shot will be offered their second jab from another producer, such as Pfizer Inc./BioNTech SE or Moderna Inc.
Denmark’s announcement on Wednesday took a dramatic turn when the unit chief who provided much of the data behind the country’s decision, Tanja Erichsen, collapsed during her presentation. Reporters attending the event were told that she quickly recovered, after she suffered a brief moment of faintness.
Like elsewhere, health authorities in Denmark have been working around the clock to ensure the country’s testing and vaccination facilities run efficiently.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.