PARIS, March 19 (Reuters) – The French medical regulator approved the resumption of vaccinations against AstraZeneca COVID-19 on Friday, but breaking with advice from the European watchdog, he said it should only be administered to people aged 55 and over.
Medical staff told Reuters the French recommendation, which came just weeks after Paris initially said the Anglo-Swedish vaccine should only be used on people under the age of 65, risking confusion in the public and deepen public mistrust of the vaccine.
On Thursday, the European Medicines Agency said the vaccine was safe for all age groups. He said he was convinced the benefits outweighed the risks after reports of rare cases of blood clotting.
However, France’s National Health Authority (HAS) took note of the evidence that coagulation mainly affected younger people, whose risk of dying from COVID-19 was lower than the elderly, and was deviating from the EMA line.
EMA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the French position.
“Regarding AstraZeneca, I must say that I sympathize with those who have trouble understanding everything,” said Marie-Louise Pradin, doctor based in the northern city of Lille.
“The reports of adverse reactions do not look good. But we, as professionals, know that they are rare and not necessarily related to the vaccine. Now HAS is issuing this advice. I know many patients will simply refuse to take it, ”she said.
France was one of more than a dozen states in the European Union to suspend use of the Anglo-Swedish vaccine this week.
An EMA review of 20 million people in Britain and the European Economic Area, which connects 30 European countries, included seven cases of blood clots in several blood vessels and 18 cases of a difficult rare disease to be treated called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST).
HAS said it would reconsider its opinion as soon as new data came in. Guidance will also be given shortly to those under 55 who have already received a first dose of AstraZeneca, she added.
The new restrictions add another complication to the difficult roll-out of vaccination in France, which has been beset by bureaucracy, supply difficulties and public mistrust.
Prime Minister Jean Castex received an injection of AstraZeneca on Friday in a bid to boost public confidence in the vaccine. It may take some time.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine is such an important part of our vaccination campaign. There is not any other way. We cannot do without it, ”said Jacques Battistoni, head of a union of general practitioners.
France has so far delivered 5.7 million first doses – or about 8% of the population – compared to more than 25 million in Britain and more than 100 million in the United States.
Retired Damien Gander said he had no doubts about the safety of AstraZeneca’s shot when he received the injection.
“From the start I thought the vaccine was safe. People panic but there are always side effects. (Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont and Benoit Van Overstraeten; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Alex Richardson, Nick Macfie and Angus MacSwan)