President Emmanuel Macron of France has suspended the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in the country, pending a review of its safety by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
“The decision has been made to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, hoping that we can resume it quickly if the judgement of the EMA allows it,” Macron told a press conference, adding that an announcement by the EMA was expected on Tuesday afternoon.
“We have a simple guide, to be informed by science and the competent health authorities and to do it as part of a European strategy,” he said.
He said the suspension will be effective “until tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon” when the EMA will make its position known.
Several European countries, including Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, suspended usage of the shot after reported blood clotting incidents.
The decision, which reverses previous guidance from French health authorities to continue using the jab, came just a day after French Prime Minister Jean Castex had defended the vaccine.
“At this stage, we must have confidence in this vaccine,” Castex said on Sunday.
“If not, we’ll have delays with our vaccinations and French people will be less protected and the health crisis will last longer.”
Speaking alongside Macron at the press conference in southwest France, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced no change for Spain, but said it was important “to give a message of guarantee and safety to the whole of the European population regarding the vaccination process.”
Macron also said the French government would have “decisions to take” in the next few days in order to control the spread of COVID-19 cases after an uptick in cases and a rise in hospitalisation.
“We will probably have new decisions to take in the coming days,” Macron said.
He said the government needed to look at “the reality of the epidemic, town by town, region by region: it’s what we are doing.”
Hospitals in the Paris region are close to capacity, with patients being transferred out of the capital region to other parts of France, while other hotspots of infection are in the north around Calais and the Cote d’Azur.
Macron decided against a third national lockdown at the end of January, saying instead a policy of 6pm nation-wide curfew and a partial shutdown of bars, restaurants and other social and entertainment meeting places should continue.