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Norway to retain suspension of AstraZeneca vaccine until at least next week

Norway said on Thursday it would wait before resuming use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine even though it has been declared safe by Europe's medical regulator.

Norway to retain suspension of AstraZeneca vaccine until at least next week
(Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) said that after an investigation the AstraZeneca vaccine was “safe and effective” and not linked to an increased risk of blood clots.

The ruling, which was similar to the World Health Organization’s statement, led to European heavyweights Germany, France, Spain and Italy all saying they would soon resume vaccinations with the jab.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) said it “took note” of the EMA’s finding, but deemed it “premature” at this point to come to a final conclusion.

The NIPH said it would issue its own guidance at the end of next week.

“Vaccinations with AstraZeneca will remain suspended until we have a full view of the situation,” institute director Camilla Stoltenberg told media.  

On Thursday, a Norwegian medical team claimed it found a link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clots in patients who became seriously ill or died a few days after their first injection.

 “We obtained results that could explain the clinical evolution of our hospitalised patients,” said Pål Andre Holme, professor and chief physician at Oslo University Hospital.

“These results support our theory… that these patients had a strong immune response which led to the formation of antibodies that could affect the (blood) platelets and lead to a thrombus” or blood clot, he added.

READ MORE: Norwegian experts conclude ‘strong immune response’ from AstraZeneca vaccine linked to blood clots

 Asked if the death was caused by the vaccine, he replied: “I don’t see any other possibility at this point,” while emphasising that it was still a question of “indicators”.

Norwegian media said the results were recent and had not been taken into consideration by the EMA.

The European agency’s safety committee concluded that the vaccine was “not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events or blood clots”, according to EMA chief Emer Cooke.

She nonetheless declined to “rule out definitively” a link to a rare clotting disorder.

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COVID-19

Public Health Agency recommends two Covid doses next year for elderly

Sweden's Public Health Agency is recommending that those above the age of 80 should receive two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine a year, once in the spring and once in the autumn, as it shifts towards a longer-term strategy for the virus.

Public Health Agency recommends two Covid doses next year for elderly

In a new recommendation, the agency said that those living in elderly care centres, and those above the age of 80 should from March 1st receive two vaccinations a year, with a six month gap between doses. 

“Elderly people develop a somewhat worse immune defence after vaccination and immunity wanes faster than among young and healthy people,” the agency said. “That means that elderly people have a greater need of booster doses than younger ones. The Swedish Public Health Agency considers, based on the current knowledge, that it will be important even going into the future to have booster doses for the elderly and people in risk groups.” 

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People between the ages of 65 and 79 years old and young people with risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes, poor kidney function or high blood pressure, are recommended to take one additional dose per year.

The new vaccination recommendation, which will start to apply from March 1st next year, is only for 2023, Johanna Rubin, the investigator in the agency’s vaccination programme unit, explained. 

She said too much was still unclear about how long protection from vaccination lasted to institute a permanent programme.

“This recommendation applies to 2023. There is not really an abundance of data on how long protection lasts after a booster dose, of course, but this is what we can say for now,” she told the TT newswire. 

It was likely, however, that elderly people would end up being given an annual dose to protect them from any new variants, as has long been the case with influenza.

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