MILAN - Countries should avoid giving the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to people over 60 in addition to younger age groups, the head of the EU drug regulator's COVID-19 task force was quoted on Sunday as saying, amid fears over rare blood clotting and as alternative vaccines become available.
The European Medicines Agency's (EMA) position is that the AstraZeneca shot is safe and can be used for all age groups over 18. However several European Union member states have restricted its use to those in the age range 50 to 65, due to rare cases of blood clotting, mainly among young people.
"In a pandemic context, our position was and is that the risk-benefit ratio remains favourable for all age groups," COVID-19 task force chief Marco Cavaleri told the Italian newspaper La Stampa.
However, Cavaleri said that as the number of COVID-19 cases is falling and taking into account that the younger population is less exposed to COVID-19 related risks, it could be better to use vaccines based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, such as Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, on the younger population.
Asked whether health authorities should also avoid giving the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged over 60, Cavaleri said: "Yes, and many countries, such as France and Germany, are considering it in the light of greater availability of mRNA vaccines."
Earlier this week the Italian government said it would restrict the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged over 60, after a teenager who had received the shot died from a rare form of blood clotting.
Italian Health minister Roberto Speranza told reporters on Sunday that Italy will continue to use the AstraZeneca vaccine on the over 60s, including those who have not received a first jab.
Like many European countries, Italy briefly halted AstraZeneca inoculations in March over concerns about the rare blood clotting problems.
It resumed them the following month with the recommendation that the product be "preferably" used for people over the age of 60, after the EMA said its benefits outweighed any risks.
(Reporting by Elvira Pollina Editing by Gareth Jones and Elaine Hardcastle)