AstraZeneca: Italy 'right to be cautious' says health minister

Italy right to temporarily suspend AstraZeneca vaccine, until EMA confirms it is safe, says Italian health minister.

"Those who have already had the AstraZeneca vaccine have no reason to be worried, this is only a precautionary suspension," said Italy's health minister Roberto Speranza said today during an online healthcare event.

"Vaccines are and remain the fundamental weapon with which to emerge from these difficult months," Speranza told the editor of Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Luciano Fontana.

Italy, along with several other European countries, ordered the temporary suspension of the AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine on 15 March, amid concerns about possible serious side-effects including blood clots.

"Yesterday's decision to suspend AstraZeneca is of a precautionary nature," ahead of a judgement from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), said Speranza, adding that it was "right to be cautious."

The decision by Germany, France, Italy to suspend AstraZeneca was described as “political choice" by Nicola Magrini, the head of Italy’s medicines authority AIFA.

Magrini told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that AstraZeneca was safe and that the benefit to risk ratio of the jab is “largely positive,” adding that in Italy there have been eight deaths and four cases of serious side-effects following vaccinations, "in some cases many days later."

Magrini also reassured those who had the first AstraZeneca dose, stating: "Adverse reactions, when they happen, occur in the hours immediately after the injection. We must have faith in research and in the vaccination plan."

Yesterday Italy's coronavirus emergency commissioner General Francesco Figliuolo signed an order stating that if any vaccine doses are left over at the end of the day and cannot be stored they should be administered to whoever is "available in that moment" to avoid waste.

In recent days Italy gave the green light to Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine, the fourth to be licensed by AIFA after Pfizer-BionTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

Last week Figliuolo announced a plan to accelerate Italy's vaccination campaign which has been dogged by delays and shortfalls in vaccines.

The goal is to reach half a million doses per day nationwide and vaccinate at least 80 per cent of the population by September.