Denmark withdraws AstraZeneca from Covid-19 vaccination programme

Denmark has confirmed it will withdraw the AstraZeneca vaccine from the country's Covid-19 vaccination programme.

Denmark withdraws AstraZeneca from Covid-19 vaccination programme
Photo: Ann Wang/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

The Nordic country said on Tuesday it would stop using the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine altogether, becoming the first European country to do so over suspected rare but serious side effects.

Despite recommendations from the World Health Organization and European medicines watchdog to continue using the inoculation, “Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Health Authority director Søren Brostrøm told a press conference.

Despite the decision to stop using the vaccine, Brostrøm called it “effective and accessible”.

“It has been a difficult decision in the middle of an epidemic to continue the vaccination programme without an effective and accessible vaccine against Covid-19. But we have other vaccines available and we have good control over the epidemic,” he said.

“At the same time, we have come far with vaccination of older age groups for which the prevention potential of vaccination is greatest,” he added.

Denmark initially paused use of the vaccine on March 11th before extending its suspension by three weeks from March 25th. More than a dozen countries followed suit but all but a few have since resumed the use after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) emphasised the benefits of the vaccine and deemed it “safe and effective”.

Last week, the EMA announced it had come to the conclusion that unusual blood clots suffered by numerous people around Europe should be considered as rare side effects of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, but that overall the benefits of the jab outweigh the risk.

The Danish Health Authority subsequently said it would await the results of the country’s own studies on the rare cases of blood clots linked to the vaccine before making a final decision on whether to resume its use.

“We now know that there is a possible biological explanation that the AstraZeneca vaccine can cause the rare cases of blood clots. We can see that,” Brostrøm said.

Danish Medicines Agency head of department Tanja Erichsen said at Tuesday’s briefing that Denmark agreed with the EMA verdict that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risk. 

“Overall, it is a safe and effective vaccine for the treatment of Covid-19 disease,” she said.

The health authority also said it did not rule out reinstating the vaccine in future.

In Denmark, two cases of thrombosis, one of which was fatal, were linked to vaccinations after more than 140,000 people received the jab made by the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker.

People who have received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Denmark will now be offered an alternative vaccine, the health authority has confirmed.

However, there was no immediate need to re-vaccinate them, Brostrøm said.

“They were scheduled to be re-vaccinated after 12 weeks. Those 12 weeks have not yet passed. So it is not a question of them waiting for re-vaccination now,” he said.

“That is partly because you get very good protection after the first injection (of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” he added.

In the country of 5.8 million inhabitants, eight percent have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and 17 percent have received a first dose.

Since suspending use of the AstraZeneca jab in March, Denmark has continued with the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna jabs.

The AstraZeneca suspension delays the country’s vaccine rollout plans, but the health authority said in a statement that the availability of other vaccines combined with the pandemic being under control at the moment meant the inoculation campaign could continue without it.

But the date by which the country expects to have vaccinated all people over the age of 50 has been pushed back by two weeks, according to an updated version of the health authority’s vaccination calendar. That places the date in the last week of May.

The milestone is an important one because the government has earmarked it as the point by which it hopes to have lifted the majority of the country’s Covid-19 restrictions.

Delays are also likely in relation to the situation with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine after the American company yesterday announced it would put its European rollout on hold.

READ ALSO: European countries face slower vaccination as Johnson & Johnson delays rollout

Member comments

  1. Please send those Astra Zeneca vaccine from Denmark to Vietnam, if the country withdraws it. Since, Vietnam is conducting inject Astra Zeneca vaccine without any critical effect.


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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.”