Bulgaria suspends rollout of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria on Friday temporarily halted COVID-19 inoculations using the AstraZeneca vaccine after a woman died hours after receiving a shot, and said it wanted the European Medicine Agency (EMA) to dispel all doubts about the vaccine’s safety.

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Several other countries have also temporarily suspended their rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but the EMA said on Thursday the shots should continue to be administered, saying the benefits outweighed any risks.

“Until all doubts are dispelled... we are halting inoculations with this vaccine,” Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said in a statement.

Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said a 57-year-old woman from a village in southern Bulgaria had died of heart failure some 15 hours after receiving an AstraZeneca shot on Thursday.

“This is a just a precautionary measure,” Angelov told reporters, appealing to those already inoculated to stay calm.

“We do not have any official data that proves a causal connection.”

Angelov said the woman who died had a history of heart disease and suffered from obesity. The final medical investigation into her death will be ready in seven days, but the autopsy found no blood clots, he said.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland temporarily suspended their AstraZeneca inoculations amid reports that blood clots had formed in some who had received the shot.

AstraZeneca said on Thursday it had found no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis - marked by the formation of blood clots - in safety data of more than 10 million records, even when considering subgroups based on age, gender, production batch or country of use.

Bulgaria, which is trying to speed up its vaccination campaign, said it would keep AstraZeneca shots in stock pending the checks, and would continue to administer Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots.

On Friday, Germany said it would continue to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine and France said it had shown great efficacy.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean and Gareth Jones