Estonia suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine for under 60s

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AstraZeneca vaccination. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Estonia has suspended the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people under the age of 60, the head of the government's scientific advisory council Irja Lutsar said.

Speaking at a press conference, Irja Lutsar said it has been confirmed there is a possible link with a thrombsis syndrome. Until more information is available, Estonia will not vaccinate people under 60 years old with the vaccine.

"Of course, 1,000 percent of the experts do not agree, but experts have said there is a link between the vaccine and the syndrome," Lutsar said.

The advisory council still recommends the vaccine is used for people over the age of 60 and Lutsar said it is as good as other vaccines at preventing a serious form of the illness.

On Wednesday, the European Medicines Agency said there is a "possible link" to "very rare" cases of blood clotting with the AstraZeneca vaccine but said it can still be used for all people over 18. The agency's statement can be read here.

Lutsar also mentioned the Estonian National Expert Committee on Immunoprophylaxis' decisions on Tuesday, which said people under 60 who have already received one dose of the AstraZeneca should receive the second dose. But new doses should not be given to younger people.

"The committee met on Monday night, the decision of March 18 was discussed and the committee found that the decision was the right one at the time, but also said that our recommendation now is that AstraZeneca should not be to given to people under 60 years of age. When there is more data then we will know what causes this syndrome," she said. Lutsar is also a member of the national expert committee.

At present, Lutsar said, no clear risk factors have been identified. "On the plus side - if we know what the syndrome is, we know how to deal with it."

She said the Society of Hematologists has prepared treatment guidelines and the current situation is better than a month ago because there is now information about how to treat symptoms.

The advisory council reiterated the main focus should still be on vaccinating the elderly and risk groups first.

Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center) said the vaccination policy for frontline workers now needs to be reviewed due to the age cap. So far, a third of frontline workers have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

Kiik reiterated it is important for people who have already had one dose of AstraZeneca to get the second. He said he also plans to get his second dose when the time comes.

Additionally, he said there may be situations where a family doctor considers it reasonable for a patient to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca, which would then be allowed.

"There is no ban, but the recommendations of the scientific council and the immunoprophylaxis committee must be taken seriously," he said.

The European Medicines Agency on Wednesday backed continued use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in all adults, in a statement confirming a "possible link" to "very rare" cases of blood clotting, the website Politico Europe reported.

The statement following a review by the EMA's safety committee said the overall benefits of the vaccine in protecting against the coronavirus still outweigh the risks. The vaccine remains approved in the EU for anyone over the age of 18.

It's the first time the regulator has confirmed a possible link between the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and blood clotting. The EMA said that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should now be listed as a very rare side effect.

The EMA's statement can be read here.

Editor's note: The article was updated to add information from the European Medicines Agency.

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Editor: Helen Wright

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