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VACCINE

Covid-19: Italy bans batch of AstraZeneca vaccine

Italy's medicines regulator said on Thursday it was banning a batch of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid vaccine as a precaution, amid fears of a link to blood clots that sparked suspensions elsewhere in Europe.

Covid-19: Italy bans batch of AstraZeneca vaccine
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) stated in a press release on Thursday that it had banned the use of batch number ABV2856 of the vaccine in Italy following the reporting of some “serious adverse events”.

But the regulator said there was currently no established link between the vaccine and the alleged side-effects – a position reinforced by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s office.

Following the announcement, a spokesman for Draghi said that in a phone call with European Commission chief Ursula Von Der Leyen, “it emerged that there is no evidence of a link between the cases of thrombosis in Europe and the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine”.

AIFA stressed in its statement that “at present, no causal link has been established between the administration of the vaccine and these events.”

It had “decided as a precaution to issue a ban on the use of this batch throughout the national territory. and reserves the right to take further measures, where necessary.”

The agency said it was “carrying out all the necessary checks,” working “in close coordination with the EMA, the European pharmaceutical agency.”

READ ALSO: Italy considers giving single dose of vaccine to people who have had Covid-19

The batch mentioned by the Italian regulator, batch ABV2856, is different to that suspended by Austria on Monday, which was named by the EMA as batch ABV5300.

AIFA had said in a previous statement that ABV5300 was not distributed in Italy. 

It was not immediately clear why the other batch had been banned, or if that was the only AstraZeneca batch being used in Italy currently.

Covid vaccine
The AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid vaccine. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

Austria announced on Monday it had suspended the use of the particular AstraZeneca batch, after a 49-year-old nurse died of severe blood coagulation days after receiving the shot.

On Wednesday, the EMA said a preliminary investigation showed that the batch of AstraZeneca vaccines used in Austria was likely not to blame for the nurse’s death.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Luxembourg have also suspended the use of the particular batch, which was sent to 17 European countries and consisted of one million jabs.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland on Thursday went further, suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine.

READ ALSO:

Danish health authorities said on Thursday the suspension was a precaution, after some patients developed blood clots since receiving the jab, one of whom died.

The Danish Health Authority said that “it has not been determined, at the time being, that there is a link between the vaccine and the blood clots”.

An AstraZeneca spokesperson said the vaccine had been “extensively studied in Phase III clinical trials”, adding that “peer-reviewed data confirms the vaccine has been generally well tolerated”.

The Italian ban comes as the country is reviewing its vaccination programme, aiming to significantly speed up the vaccine roll-out between March and June.

AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine was this week approved for use in Italy on over-65s.

Find all of The Local’s latest updates on the coronavirus situation in Italy here.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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