Bulgaria suspends AstraZeneca vaccine use

An elderly woman receives a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Pirogov Hospital in Sofia, on Feb 24, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

SOFIA (AFP) - Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov on Friday (March 12) suspended use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, following similar steps in Denmark, Iceland and Norway over safety concerns.

"I order a halt in vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine until the European Medicines Agency dismisses all doubts about its safety," a government press service statement quoted Mr Borisov as saying.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on Thursday that countries can keep using AstraZeneca's vaccine while it probes cases of blood clots that prompted suspension of particular batches of the vaccine or all jabs with it in several countries.

But Mr Borisov insisted on Friday that vaccinations should stop until the country received "a written statement with an accurate and clearly confirmed diagnosis - can we or cannot we administer it".

"Until then, you stop it," he said.

Bulgaria falls last among EU countries in terms of its vaccination rate, with only 270,000 people or 3.9 per cent of the population receiving at least one dose so far.

The country has ordered far more AstraZeneca vaccines than Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna doses. It was using primarily the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent weeks after deciding to scrap prioritisation lists and offer jabs to anyone willing to take them.

So even if it remained unclear on Friday how long the suspension could last, the move was expected to severely disrupt vaccination plans.

Health officials confirmed on Thursday that the country had already almost completely used up 31,200 shots from the batch of the vaccine that was suspended in Austria earlier this week, after the death of a 49-year-old nurse from "severe blood coagulation problems" days after receiving the shot.

But Health Minister Kostadin Angelov tried to dismiss any fears over the use of the vaccine, saying that there was "no clear and precise conclusion that this batch is the cause of the adverse drug reaction associated with the lethal outcome".

Nor have severe side effects been reported so far, health officials said.

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