France approves AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine use for over-55s only

Restriction breaks with European watchdog’s guidance that shot is safe for all age groups

French prime minister Jean Castex (55) is vaccinated with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on March 19th, 2021. Photograph: THOMAS COEX/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

French prime minister Jean Castex (55) is vaccinated with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on March 19th, 2021. Photograph: THOMAS COEX/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

 

France’s medical regulator approved the resumed use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine on Friday but said it should be given only to people aged 55 and older.

The restriction breaks with the European watchdog’s guidance that the shot is safe for all age groups, and comes just weeks after Paris initially said the Anglo-Swedish vaccine should be used only on people under 65.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said on Thursday it was convinced the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweighed the risks after reports of rare instances of blood clotting.

The recommendation from the National Authority for Health (HAS) reflected signs that the clotting affected younger people mostly, whose risk of dying from Covid-19 was lower than the elderly.

“Given the data provided by the EMA, it is the HAS’s belief that vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine can resume immediately,” the French regulator said in a statement.

“However, the EMA has identified a possible increased risk of (thrombosis) in people under 55 years old. The HAS recommends using the AstraZeneca vaccine at this stage only for people aged 55 and over, who represent the majority of priority people.”

An EMA review covering 20 million people in the United Kingdom and the European Economic Area, which links 30 European countries, included seven cases of blood clots in multiple blood vessels and 18 cases of a rare condition that is difficult to treat called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis.

France was one of more than a dozen European Union states that suspended use of the Anglo-Swedish vaccine this week.

France has so far delivered 5.7 million first doses – roughly 8 per cent of the population .

On Thursday France’s prime minister imposed a month-long lockdown on Paris and parts of the north after a faltering vaccine rollout and spread of highly contagious coronavirus variants forced President Emmanuel Macron to shift course.

Since late January, when he defied the calls of scientists and some in his government to lock the country down, Mr Macron has said he would do whatever it took to keep the economy as open as possible.

However, this week he ran out of options just as France and other European countries suspended use of the AstraZenca vaccine.

The rapid spread of the variant first detected in Britain, now accounting for three quarters of all cases in France, has filled intensive care wards, notably in the Paris region where the incidence rate surpasses 400 in every 100,000 inhabitants.

Prime minister Jean Castex told a press conference France was now in the grip of a third wave. “The moment has come to go further,” he said.

The lockdown will kick in from Friday at midnight on the 16 hardest-hit departments in the greater Paris region, the northern Hauts-de-France region, Seine et Marne and the southern Alpes-Maritimes zone.

Schools will stay open and people will be allowed to exercise outdoors within a 10 km radius of their homes. People living in these areas will not be allowed to travel to other parts of France without a compelling reason.

Shops selling essential goods and bookstores will stay open.

Mr Macron stopped short of ordering a nationwide lockdown, though the Paris region is home to nearly one fifth of the population and accounts for one third of economic activity. –Reuters