Madrid and Rome last night decided to limit the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged above 60. Their decision ignores an earlier recommendation by EU regulators the EMA that the immunisation was safe to use in all adults. They join a host of EU nations, including Belgium, France and Germany, already restricting the rollout of the Oxford shot because of concerns it causes blood clots.
Spain’s decision to use the AstraZeneca vaccine only for people over 60 is a sharp U-turn on its previous policy that banned the jab for over-55s.
The new rules are expected to hinder prime minister Pedro Sanchez’s ambitions to have 70 percent of the population vaccinated by the end of August.
Isabel Diaz Ayuso, head of the Madrid regional government, slammed the decision.
She said: “You can’t constantly change the criteria.
“You can’t switch halfway through the game when many people are already vaccinated, and when there was at last beginning to be some clarity about which vaccines were for which groups of people.”
So far, 6.4 million Spaniards have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Of those, around 2 million of those were given the Oxford jab, which has seen its use ramped up in recent weeks.
Italian health chiefs last night issued similar guidance, saying the AstraZeneca shot should be given “preferential use” in those aged 60 and above.
The countries changed their advice after an EMA investigation into the Anglo-Swedish firm’s shot found blood clots to be a “very rare” side effect.
The EU’s drugs watchdog noted: “So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within two weeks of vaccination.”
It had hoped that EU nations would adopt a unified position for rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine.
But capitals have largely opted for their own approach.
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But medical experts have insisted the Oxford-AstraZeneca dose is still safe and played down any fears.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said the change in guidance was not unusual and should not delay the rollout.
He said: “It is a course correction but nevertheless it is full speed ahead with the UK vaccine programme so that we can get life back to normal.”
Boris Johnson thanked the review panel for their work and for explaining “the potential for extremely rare side-effects”.
The Prime Minister said: “As the regulators have said, this vaccine is safe, effective and has already saved thousands of lives – and the vast majority of people should continue to take it when offered.
“We will follow today’s updated advice, which should allow people of all ages to continue to have full confidence in vaccines, helping us save lives and cautiously return towards normality.”