WHO insists AstraZeneca vaccine safe as jab faces new setbacks

The World Health Organization said Friday there is no reason to stop using AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after several countries suspended the rollout over blood clot fears while some nations begin warning of another virus wave.

The WHO, which said its vaccines advisory committee was examining the safety data coming in, stressed that no causal link has been established between the AstraZeneca vaccine and clotting.

“AstraZeneca is an excellent vaccine, as are the other vaccines that are being used,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told reporters in Geneva.

“Yes, we should continue using the AstraZeneca vaccine,” she added, stressing that any concerns over safety must be investigated.

UK-based AstraZeneca insisted its jab was safe, adding there is “no evidence” of higher blood clot risks from it.

– New lockdown in Italy –

Despite hopes that vaccines will pave the way to a return to normality, hard-hit Italy announced tough new restrictions in much of the country, with Prime Minister Mario Draghi warning the country was facing “a new wave” of infections.

One year after it became the first European country to face a major outbreak, Italy is once again struggling with the rapid spread of Covid-19, this time fuelled by new, more contagious variants.

Schools, restaurants, shops and museums were ordered Friday to close across most regions of Italy, including Rome and Milan from next week.

The Greek authorities on Friday spoke of a “serious epidemiological situation”, also warning of a third wave as infection numbers mount in Athens and other major towns.

Health experts there warned that restriction measures in place, including school closures in the major conurbations, would be extended once more.

And Disneyland Paris, Europe’s biggest tourist attraction, said Friday it will not be able to reopen as planned on April 2 because of the ongoing Covid-19 crisis with infections remaining stubbornly high in France.

– Another possible side effect –

The shadow cast over the AstraZeneca jab is adding to problems the European Union has had in distributing coronavirus vaccines.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland paused the use of the AstraZeneca jab as a precaution after isolated reports of recipients developing blood clots.

Italy and Austria have banned the use of shots from separate batches of AstraZeneca, and Thailand and Bulgaria said this week they would delay the rollout of the shot.

In Spain at least five regions said Friday they had suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccines from the suspect batch banned by Austria as a precautionary measure.

But several other countries, including Australia, said they would continue their rollouts as they had found no reason to alter course. Canada also said there was no evidence the jab causes adverse reactions.

Following the nations’ first four-way summit, US President Joe Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, said the so-called Quad had made a “massive joint commitment” to vaccines.

“The Quad committed to delivering up to one billion doses to ASEAN, the Indo-Pacific and beyond by the end of 2022,” Sullivan told reporters.

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