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Finland continues use of AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65 age group only

The National Vaccination Expert Group (KRAR) said it saw no reason to change the existing age limit.

Astra Zeneca -rokotetta valmistava sairaanhoitajat Porvoon rokotuskeskuksessa. 18.3.2021.
Use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine was suspended in Finland last month due to reports of blood clots in two people who had received the jab. Image: Jorge Gonzalez / Yle

The National Vaccination Expert Group (KRAR) has recommended that Finnish health authorities continue to use the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for people aged 65 years and over only.

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) announced that it supports KRAR's assessment and will proceed as recommended by the expert group.

Use of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been limited to the over 65 age group only since last month. This followed a decision by THL to pause administration of the vaccine last month following two cases of brain blood clots diagnosed in two individuals who had received the jab.

KRAR chair Ville Peltola told Yle that the group decided that, based on the latest available information, no changes needed to be made to the age limit.

"Adverse reactions have been reported in younger age groups, but not in the at-risk groups, that is people over 65 years of age. So far, no additional information has been added to justify changing the age limit," Peltola explained.

In Europe, these side effects have been reported in an average of about one in 100,000 people vaccinated. In Britain, the side effects have been less common or less reported to the authorities, at a rate of around 1 per 600,000 people vaccinated.

Three reports of blood clots, one death

Prior to last month's suspension, AstraZeneca had been administered mainly to people of working age. In total, about 250,000 doses of the vaccine have been distributed in Finland so far. Three people have suffered blood clotting after receiving the injection, one of whom died.

Peltola said that it is not clear at this stage how much, if any, of Finland's stock of the AstraZeneca vaccine will eventually go unused, as this will depend on whether the vaccine can be used in people under 65 years of age in the future.

KRAR has also recommended that the age limit of 65 and over apply to people receiving second doses as well. It may be possible in future that people who received AstraZeneca as their first dose can receive a different vaccine for the second jab.

Peltola said he is not concerned about any possible implications the continued restriction will have on Finland's vaccination rollout.

"Astra Zeneca does not make up a huge share of the vaccines available in Finland. Other vaccines are available in even higher amounts," he said.

Last week, the City of Helsinki's Chief Physician Timo Lukkarinen said that the continued uncertainty over the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine and discussion around its side effects were hampering vaccination planning and efforts to curb the spread of the epidemic in Finland.

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