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VACCINE

Italy suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine over blood clot concerns

Italy's medicines agency AIFA said on Monday it had joined other European nations in blocking the use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine over concerns about a possible link to blood clots.

Italy suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine over blood clot concerns
Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

“AIFA has decided to extend the ban on the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine throughout Italy as a precautionary and temporary measure pending European Medicines Agency (EMA) rulings,” said the regulator, adding the decision was made in line with similar measures by other European countries.

READ ALSO: Which countries in Europe have suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations?

The decision came after talks between Health Minister Roberto Speranza and ministers in Germany, France and Spain.

“The choices made and shared today by the main European countries on AstraZeneca have been taken purely as a precautionary measure pending the next decisive meeting of the European Medicines Agency,” Speranza said in a statement.

“We are confident that the European agency will already in the next few hours be able to definitively clarify this issue.”

The news comes just days after AIFA blocked the use of one batch of the vaccines, despite stressing that there was no established link between the vaccine and the alleged side-effects.

Italy joins a growing list of countries suspending use of the vaccine on Monday, including France and Germany.

Ireland, Denmark, Norway and Bulgaria had previously suspended use of the AstraZeneca jabs.

The northern Italian region of Piedmont on Sunday said it had blocked use of the vaccine as investigations were carried out after the death of a teacher who had received it the day before.

The woman, who age has not been disclosed, died on Sunday in the town of Biella, north of Turin.

“This is an extreme precautionary measure, while waiting to see if a causal link exists between the vaccination and the death,” said a statement from regional health advisor Luigi Genesio Icardi.

CHARTS: How many people has Italy vaccinated so far?

On Sunday, health ministry inspectors arrived in Sicily in the south of the country to investigate the death there of a 43-year-old soldier last Tuesday after having received the vaccine.

The World Health Organization, Europe’s medicines watchdog, governments and experts have stressed that no causal link has been established between the vaccine and blood clotting and insisted that the vaccine is safe.

AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish company which developed the vaccine with Oxford University, has defended the safety of its product.

“Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population,” AstraZeneca’s chief medical officer Ann Taylor said in a statement.

“The nature of the pandemic has led to increased attention in individual cases and we are going beyond the standard practices for safety monitoring of licensed medicines in reporting vaccine events, to ensure public safety,” Taylor also said.

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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