Denmark suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Danish health authorities said Thursday they were temporarily suspending the use of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine as  a precaution after some patients developed blood clots since receiving the jab, one of whom died.

Denmark suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine
Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

The move comes “following reports of serious cases of blood clots among people vaccinated with AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine”, the Danish Health Authority said in a statement. 

But it cautiously added that “it has not been determined, at the time being, that there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots”.

Nevertheless the agency asked the regional authorities in charge of vaccine rollout to stop using the AstraZeneca jab until further notice.

It added that there was “good evidence the vaccine is both safe and effective” but that it would consult with the Danish medicines agency in two weeks.

“It is important to point out that we have not terminated the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, we are just pausing its use,” Danish Health Authority director Soren Brostrøm said in the statement.

Denmark said one person had died after receiving the vaccine. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has launched an investigation into that death.

“There is broad documentation proving that the vaccine is both safe and efficient. But both we and the Danish Medicines Agency must act on information about possible serious side effects, both in Denmark and in other European countries,” Brostrøm said.

The suspension, which will be reviewed after two weeks, is expected to slowdown Denmark’s vaccination campaign.

Copenhagen now expects to have its entire adult population vaccinated by mid-August instead of early July, the health authority said.

Since inoculation campaigns began in earnest, isolated cases have been reported in some countries of people dying shortly after receiving a vaccine. None has been linked to the vaccine.

Authorities in Austria had stopped vaccinations with a batch of AstraZeneca’s inoculation against the coronavirus, after the nurse died and another became seriously ill after receiving their jabs.

She died as a result of severe coagulation disorders, an illness related to the blood’s ability to clot.

But Europe’s medicines watchdog EMA said on Wednesday that a preliminary probe showed that the batch of AstraZeneca vaccines used in Austria was not to blame for the death of a nurse.

 “This is a super-cautious approach based on some isolated reports in Europe,” said Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

“The risk and benefit balance is still very much in favour of the vaccine,” he said.

In a written comment provided to Danish news wire Ritzau, AstraZeneca said it did not want to comment on the individual cases but was aware that Denmark had temporarily halted use of the vaccine.

The company stressed patient safety is its highest priority.

“Authorities have clear and strict standards for effectiveness and safety when approving any new medicine. That includes the coronavirus vaccine from AstraZeneca.

“The vaccine’s safety has been thoroughly researched in phase-three studies and peer-reviewed data confirms that the vaccine is generally well tolerated,” the company wrote according to Ritzau.

Danish Medicines Agency (Lægemiddelstyrelsen) head of department Tanja Erichsen called for calm over the decision.

“We don’t yet know whether the blood clots and the Danish death were caused by the vaccine. But that will now be thoroughly investigated as a matter of precaution,” Erichsen told Ritzau in a written comment.

Allan Randrup Thomsen, a virologist at the University of Copenhagen, told AFP that so many people were being vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab “that it’s hard for me to believe there should be a real problem”.

“But it’s very important that a thorough investigation is performed,” headded.

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IN NUMBERS: Has the Omicron Covid-19 wave peaked in Denmark?

The number of new Covid-19 infections fell on Saturday for the second day in a row, following a three-day plateau at the start of last week. Has the omicron wave peaked?

IN NUMBERS: Has the Omicron Covid-19 wave peaked in Denmark?
Graffiti in the Copenhagen hippy enclave of Christiania complaining of Omicron's impact on Christmas. Photo: Philip Davali/Scanpix

How many cases, hospitalisations and deaths are there in Denmark? 

Denmark registered 12,588 new cases in the 24 hours leading up to 2pm on Saturday, down from the 18,261 registered on in the day leading up to Friday at 2pm, which was itself a decline from the record 28,283 cases recorded on Wednesday. 

The cases were identified by a total of 174,517 PCR tests, bringing the positive percentage to 7.21 percent, down from the sky high rates of close to 12 percent seen in the first few days of January. 

The number of cases over the past seven days is lower than the week before in almost every municipality in Denmark, with only Vallensbæk, Aarhus, Holseterbro, Skanderborg, Hjørring, Vordingborg,  Ringkøbing, Kolding, Assens, Horsens, Thisted, and Langeland reporting rises. 

Hospitalisations have also started to fall, with some 730 patients being treated for Covid-10 on Saturday, down from 755 on Friday. On Tuesday, 794 were being treated for Covid-19 in Danish hospitals, the highest number since the peak of the 2020-21 winter wave.

The only marker which has not yet started to fall is the number of deaths, which tends to trail infections and hospitalisations. 

In the 24 hours leading up to 2pm on Saturday, Denmark registered 28 deaths with Covid-19, the highest daily number recorded since 20 January 2021, when 29 people died with Covid-19 (although Denmark’s deadliest day was the 19 January 2021, when 39 people died). 

How does Denmark compare to other countries in Europe? 

Over the last seven days, Denmark has had the highest Covid-19 case rate of any country in Europe bar Ireland. The number of new infections in the country has climbed steadily since the start of December, apart from a brief fall over Christmas. 

So does this mean the omicron wave has peaked? 

Maybe, although experts are not sure. 

“Of course, you can hope for that, but I’m not sure that is the case,” said Christian Wejse, head of the Department for Infectious Diseases at Aarhus University Hospital. “I think it is too early to conclude that the epidemic has peaked.”

He said that patients with the Omicron variant were being discharged more rapidly on average than had been the case with those who had the more dangerous Delta variant. 

“Many admissions are relatively short-lived, thankfully. This is because many do not become that il, and are largely hospitalized because they are suffering with something else. And if they are stable and do not need oxygen, then they are quickly discharged again.” 

Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said during a visit to an event held by the Social Liberal party that the latest numbers made her even more optimistic about the coming month. 

“We have lower infection numbers and the number of hospitalisations is also plateauing,” she said. “I think we’re going to get through this winter pretty well, even if it will be a difficult time for a lot of people, and we are beginning to see the spring ahead of us, so I’m actually very optimistic.” 

She said that she had been encouraged by the fact that Omicron was a “visibly less dangerous variant if it is not allowed to explode.”