Portugal will only use AstraZenca shots for over-60s

FILE PHOTO: People wait in a COVID-19 vaccination centre, as Portugal resumes vaccination with AstraZeneca shots after a temporary suspension, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Seixal, Portugal, March 22, 2021. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

LISBON (Reuters) -Portugal will from now on recommend the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine only for people aged over 60, the health authority DGS said on Thursday, amid concerns over possible links between the shot and very rare cases of blood clots.

The coordinator of the vaccination taskforce, Henrique Melo, said the decision would only have a “small” impact on the vaccination rollout.

“I want to highlight the goal of the vaccination campaign in Portugal is to save lives and prevent serious illness,” health authority head Graca Freitas told a news conference. “This can be achieved with any vaccine approved in Portugal.”

The move came after the European Medicines Agency announced on Wednesday it had reports of 169 cases of a rare clotting disorder out of 34 million doses administered in Europe. Most occurred in women under 60 and within two weeks of injection.

Melo said Portugal had already administered 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Freitas urged those who had received a first dose to stay calm as the side effects were “extremely rare”. The suspension for people under 60 is temporary and will be evaluated when there is more data available.

Portugal is expecting to receive another 1.4 million AstraZeneca doses by June. It also uses the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Portugal, which fought the worst of its outbreak in January before cases slowed, has had 825,633 infections and 16,899 deaths.

European Union health ministers failed to agree common guidance on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, despite calls for coordination across member states to combat any public hesitancy over taking the shot.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Victoria Waldersee; Editing by Nathan Allen and Alison Williams