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Europe’s vaccine woes deepen as regulator probes another jab over blood clot concerns

Europe's stuttering vaccine rollout faced multiple hurdles on Friday as EU regulators said they were reviewing side effects of the Johnson & Johnson shot and France further limited its use of the AstraZeneca jab.

Europe's vaccine woes deepen as regulator probes another jab over blood clot concerns
Syringes for the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP

The US drugs regulator said it had not found a “causal” link between the J&J vaccine and blood clots, but that its probe was continuing after “a few individuals” suffered complications.

Much of the world is still in the clutches of the pandemic that has killed 2.9 million people, from Brazil, where the virus is killing more than 4,000 people a day, to Japan where the government has tightened restrictions once again.

In India, the worst-hit state of Maharashtra is running out of vaccines as the health system buckles under the weight of the contagion. Home to megacity Mumbai, Maharashtra has been placed under a curfew and weekend lockdowns.

And across Europe populations are facing some of the world’s toughest anti-virus measures, yet the epidemic refuses to be curbed.

All of France is subjected to restrictions of some form, and the country has so far doled out jabs to more than 10 million people.

But it has repeatedly changed the rules on AstraZeneca’s vaccine, first over doubts about its efficacy, then over fears that it could be linked to blood clots.

SEE ALSO: How fast is France vaccinating its population compared to other European countries?

On Friday it did so again, with Health Minister Olivier Veran saying citizens under 55 who had been given a first shot with AstraZeneca would be given a different vaccine for their second dose.

But shortly after he spoke, the World Health Organization said there was “no adequate data” to support switching Covid-19 vaccines between doses.

‘One more day’

As Europe continues to reel from constant rows over AstraZeneca’s jab, the EU’s medicine regulator announced it would be probing a second jab over bloodclot concerns.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said four “serious cases” of unusual blood clots had been reported — one of them fatal — with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which uses similar technology to the AstraZeneca one.

The US Food and Drug Administration said it had found no “causal” link yet between the jab and clots.

But it noted “a few individuals” in the country had clots and low levels of platelets in the blood after receiving the vaccine, and its investigation was continuing.

“Both conditions can have many different causes,” the agency said.

Johnson & Johnson released a statement saying the company was aware that “thromboembolic events… have been reported with all Covid-19 vaccines”.

But the statement added: “At present, no clear causal relationship has been established between these rare events and the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine,” referring to J&J’s European subsidiary.

Both jabs are approved for use in the European Union but the J&J vaccine has not yet been rolled out, and various EU countries have stopped or limited the use of AstraZeneca.

Supply problems

Supply problems are also hampering vaccine rollouts.

India, which is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of vaccines, is suffering its own problems with jabs in Maharashtra, home to more than 100 million people and the economic hub Mumbai.

“Most hospitals in Mumbai will exhaust their supplies by the end of the day,” Mangala Gomare, who oversees the city’s vaccination programme, told AFP Friday.

In the United States, deliveries of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are set to drop off sharply next week, US health authorities warned Friday.

Meanwhile Pfizer-BioNTech asked for authorisation to use their Covid-19 vaccine on 12-15 year olds in the US.

The companies said in a statement that they plan to make similar requests of other regulatory authorities worldwide in coming days.

In Europe, an AstraZeneca spokesman said half of its vaccine shipments to the EU will be delayed this week.

Swedish climate campaigner Greta Thunberg said Friday she would skip a forthcoming climate meeting in Britain because countries were unable to participate on even terms.

READ MORE: Swedish region makes U-turn on new Covid-19 vaccination rules

“With the extremely inequitable vaccine distribution I will not attend the COP26 conference if the development continues as it is now,” Thunberg told AFP.

Illustrating her point, Britain has so far given at least one jab to more than 31 million people, almost half of its population, compared with poorer countries like Mexico, which has administered fewer than 10 million jabs to only seven percent of its people.

‘Everyone is not equal’

Germany’s central government has tried hard to defeat the virus through restrictions on movement and commerce, but several states have torpedoed the strategy by refusing to go along with the proposals.

Now Berlin is changing the rules to gather more centralised power.

READ MORE: Germany to tighten national coronavirus law in bid to ‘create uniform rules’

The proposed adjustments are likely to usher in night-time curfews and some school closures in especially hard-hit areas.

Japan has also tightened measures in the capital Tokyo and other areas, mostly calling for bars to close early.

On the other hand, Italy is set to end lockdown measures from next week for Lombardy, the epicentre of its coronavirus pandemic, and several other regions with improving contagion statistics.

Neighbouring Slovenia also announced it will ease coronavirus restrictions and suspend a six-month-long curfew starting Monday.

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COVID-19

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.

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