Speranza said Italy and other European countries had been right to suspend use of the vaccine while checks are carried out by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), amid concerns about it potentially being linked to blood clots.
“It is right to be cautious,” Speranza said in an interview with newspaper Il Corriere della Sera on Tuesday
The minister said people who have had the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab “have no reason to worry”, saying the suspension was a precaution.
“Vaccines are and remain the most fundamental weapon with which to get out of these difficult months,” he said.
Italy’s medicines agency AIFA on Monday stated that it had “decided to extend the ban on the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine throughout Italy as a precautionary and temporary measure”, and stressed that there was no established link between the vaccine and alleged side effects.
The decision came after talks between Health Minister Roberto Speranza and ministers in Germany, France and Spain.
Speranza said he was confident that “we will be able to give reassurances and resume vaccinations” after the EMA’s assessment on Thursday.
“When new events occur it is right to stop and check,” he added.
“This should increase citizens’ confidence.”
The head of AIFA, Nicola Magrini, on Monday described Italy’s decision to suspend AstraZeneca as a “political choice”.
Magrini told newspaper La Repubblica that AstraZeneca was safe, pointing out that in Italy there have been eight deaths and four cases of serious side-effects following vaccinations.
“Adverse reactions, when they happen, occur in the hours immediately after the injection,” he said.
“We must have faith in research and in the vaccination plan.”
Following the suspension, “tens of thousands” of people due to get the AstraZeneca vaccine have had their appointments postponed, La Repubblica reported.
Italy had so far administered about 900 thousand doses of AstraZeneca vaccine – less than half of those delivered by the manufacturer.
Public perceptions that the AstraZeneca vaccine may have more significant side-effects, such as mild flu symptoms, meant that uptake of the jab had already been slow in Italy.
The country’s vaccine rollout has also been hit by supply delays, but the government has pledged to speed up vaccinations significantly in the coming months.
Mass vaccination under the new national plan is expected to take off in mid-April, with the expected arrival of millions of vials of the US Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved by the European and Italian drug regulators in recent days.
AstraZeneca 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.
Find all of The Local’s latest updates on the coronavirus situation in Italy here.