Finnish health authorities have confirmed that they are planning to continue use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for the time being, after a senior official at the European Medicines Agency (EMA) linked the vaccine to blood clots.
Marco Cavaleri, head of vaccines strategy at the EMA, told Italy's Il Messaggero newspaper that he believes there is a "clear" link between the vaccine and rare cases of blood clots reported in people who recently received the jab.
"In my opinion, we can say it now, it is clear there is a link with the vaccine. But we still do not know what causes this reaction," he said.
Cavaleri's opinion is therefore not the official position of the EMA, but he added that the agency will be investigating the connection further and an announcement will be made in the coming days.
If the link to blood clotting can be confirmed, it would still be considered an extremely rare side effect. In Britain, about 30 of the 18 million people vaccinated with AstraZeneca by the end of March are known to have developed blood clot symptoms, and seven of them died, according to a report by the BBC (external link).
Finland awaits official EMA position
Maija Kaukonen, a Senior Medical Officer with the Finnish Medicines Agency Fimea, told Yle that she was surprised by Cavaleri's statement.
"Now that Marco Cavaleri has come out with this in this way, I hope that the [EMA's] risk assessment committee will give its recommendation and views on the matter today [Tuesday]. However, such big decisions are usually not made on the first day," Kaukonen said.
The EMA's Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC) began a three-day meeting on Tuesday to discuss a possible update to the recommendation on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Cavaleri's statement will have no immediate effect on how Finland distributes the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to Hanna Nohynek, head of the vaccine unit at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare THL. Finnish authorities will instead wait for an official statement from the EMA before assessing whether the current practice needs to be changed, Nohynek added.
"For the time being, Finland will follow the precautionary recommendation that the use of AstraZeneca be restricted to people aged 65 and over, because no such rare side effects have been observed in that age group," Nohynek said.
A number of countries have imposed restrictions on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, especially in younger adults.