Covid-19: Italy bans batch of AstraZeneca vaccine

Italy's medicines regulator said on Thursday it was banning a batch of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid vaccine as a precaution, amid fears of a link to blood clots that sparked suspensions elsewhere in Europe.

Covid-19: Italy bans batch of AstraZeneca vaccine
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) stated in a press release on Thursday that it had banned the use of batch number ABV2856 of the vaccine in Italy following the reporting of some “serious adverse events”.

But the regulator said there was currently no established link between the vaccine and the alleged side-effects – a position reinforced by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office.

Following the announcement, a spokesman for Draghi said that in a phone call with European Commission chief Ursula Von Der Leyen, “it emerged that there is no evidence of a link between the cases of thrombosis in Europe and the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine”.

AIFA stressed in its statement that “at present, no causal link has been established between the administration of the vaccine and these events.”

It had “decided as a precaution to issue a ban on the use of this batch throughout the national territory. and reserves the right to take further measures, where necessary.”

The agency said it was “carrying out all the necessary checks,” working “in close coordination with the EMA, the European pharmaceutical agency.”

READ ALSO: Italy considers giving single dose of vaccine to people who have had Covid-19

The batch mentioned by the Italian regulator, batch ABV2856, is different to that suspended by Austria on Monday, which was named by the EMA as batch ABV5300.

AIFA had said in a previous statement that ABV5300 was not distributed in Italy. 

It was not immediately clear why the other batch had been banned, or if that was the only AstraZeneca batch being used in Italy currently.

Covid vaccine
The AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid vaccine. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

Austria announced on Monday it had suspended the use of the particular AstraZeneca batch, after a 49-year-old nurse died of severe blood coagulation days after receiving the shot.

On Wednesday, the EMA said a preliminary investigation showed that the batch of AstraZeneca vaccines used in Austria was likely not to blame for the nurse’s death.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have also suspended the use of the particular batch, which was sent to 17 European countries and consisted of one million jabs.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland on Thursday went further, suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine.


Danish health authorities said on Thursday the suspension was a precaution, after some patients developed blood clots since receiving the jab, one of whom died.

The Danish Health Authority said that “it has not been determined, at the time being, that there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots”.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson said the vaccine had been “extensively studied in Phase III clinical trials”, adding that “peer-reviewed data confirms the vaccine has been generally well tolerated”.

The Italian ban comes as the country is reviewing its vaccination programme, aiming to significantly speed up the vaccine roll-out between March and June.

AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine was this week approved for use in Italy on over-65s.

Find all of The Local’s latest updates on the coronavirus situation in Italy here.

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Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte is set to undergo a judicial inquiry over claims his government's response to the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020 was too slow.

Former Italian PM faces investigation over Covid response

Prosecutors in Bergamo, the northern city that was one of the epicentres of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, targeted Conte after wrapping up their three-year inquiry, according to media reports.

Conte, now president of the populist Five Star movement, was prime minister from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw the initial measures taken to halt the spread of what would become a global pandemic.

Investigating magistrates suspect that Conte and his government underestimated the contagiousness of Covid-19 even though available data showed that cases were spreading rapidly in Bergamo and the surrounding region.

They note that in early March 2020 the government did not create a “red zone” in two areas hit hardest by the outbreak, Nembro and Alzano Lombardo, even though security forces were ready to isolate the zone from the rest of the country.

READ ALSO: ‘Not offensive’: Italian minister defends Covid testing rule for China arrivals

Red zones had already been decreed in late February for around a dozen other nearby municipalities including Codogno, the town where the initial Covid case was reportedly found.

Conte’s health minister Roberto Speranza as well as the president of the Lombardy region, Attilio Fontana, are also under investigation, the reports said.

Bergamo prosecutors allege that according to scientific experts, earlier quarantines could have saved thousands of lives.

Conte, quoted by Il Corriere della Sera and other media outlets, said he was “unworried” by the inquiry, saying his government had acted “with the utmost commitment and responsibility during one of the most difficult moments of our republic.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Similar cases have been lodged against officials elsewhere, alleging that authorities failed to act quickly enough against a virus that has killed an estimated 6.8 million people worldwide since early 2020.

In January, France’s top court threw out a case against former health minister Agnes Buzyn, a trained doctor, over her allegedly “endangering the lives of others” by initially playing down the severity of Covid-19.