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Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine

Norway's health authority has recommended AstraZeneca be withdrawn from its Covid-19 vaccination program, but the country's government has delayed a final decision until May.  

Norway delays final decision on withdrawal of AstraZeneca vaccine
Photo: MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

The government has said it believes more information is needed before making a final decision on the AstraZeneca vaccine, after the Norwegian Institute of Public Health recommended it be withdrawn from the national vaccination programme.

A final decision will be given on May 10th, Health Minister Bent Høie said at a press briefing on Thursday afternoon.

“The government believes we do not yet have a good enough basis for drawing final conclusions,” Høie said.     

“We must assess the consequences for the health of the entire population if we have to live with restrictions for longer than other countries in Europe”, he added.  

Use of AstraZeneca has been on hold in Norway since March 11th due to suspected serious side effects including blood clots and low platelet counts.  

The government said it was setting up an expert committee to undertake a comprehensive risk assessment on the vaccine. The committee will submit its report ahead of the decision in May .

The risk assessment will look at both AstraZeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has delayed its European rollout due to reported blood clots.

“We set up this committee because we want to know more about the consequences for the population and society before we make a decision,” Høie said.

Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca are based on the same vaccine technology. As such, a decision by to withdraw AstraZeneca in May could also be significant for Johnson & Johnson’s single use Janssen vaccine.

“If we now say no to AstraZeneca, it could have consequences for the opportunity to use Johnson & Johnson,” Høie said.

Norway has ordered over a million doses of the Janssen vaccine.

The vaccination program in Norway could face delays of up to seven weeks if both serums are dropped according to head of the NIPH, Camilla Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg also said the recommendation to recommend withdrawing the vaccine was one of the hardest decisions the authority has made during the pandemic.

So far, five patients under the age of 50 have been admitted to Oslo University Hospital (OUS) with severe blood clots after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine. Three of them have died.

Experts at the hospital have said the blood clots were triggered by a strong immune response linked to the Anglo-Swedish manufacturers serum.

The European Medicines Agency last week came to the conclusion that the unusual blood clots suffered by numerous people around Europe should be considered as rare side effects of the vaccine.

The EMA added that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.  

On Wednesday Denmark became the first country in the world to scrap the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine

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COVID-19

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany's spending in pandemic

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.

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