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Top EMA executive recommends scrapping AstraZeneca vaccine

© Mat Napo for Unsplash

A senior executive at the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recommended abandoning the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the EU where alternatives are available.

Marco Cavaleri, head of the EMA’s vaccine strategy, also advised using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine preferentially for the over-60s.

The two vaccines are viral vector vaccines, which means they work according to a similar principle, unlike the other two vaccines currently in use – Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech – which are mRNA vaccines.

Cavaleri was speaking at the weekend to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, just as the Italian authorities restricted the use of AstraZeneca to people aged over 60, because of continuing health concerns among young age groups, in particular the appearance of a combined syndrome of blood clots and low platelets formation.

In particular, the decision was triggered by the death of an 18-year-old woman died from blood clots after receiving the vaccine.

He was asked by the paper if it would not be better to stop using AstraZeneca for all age groups.

“Yes, and it is an option that many countries, such as France and Germany, are considering in the light of the increased availability of mRNA vaccines. However, incidents were very rare and after the first dose. It is true that there is less data on the second dose, but in the United Kingdom it (the vaccination programme) is going well.”

In most countries, including Belgium, the over-60s have now mainly been vaccinated once, often with AstraZeneca, so the option of using the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is no longer open – although it is still valuable for hard-to-reach groups like the homeless, since one shot is all that is required for full immunity.

However another option would be for the over-60s – many of whom are still waiting for their second dose as the initial waiting time after the first inoculation was set at 12 weeks – to replace the AstraZeneca shot with the Pfizer.

According to German research, that combination offers an even greater degree of immunity that two shots of AstraZeneca alone.