Portugal temporarily suspends AstraZeneca COVID-19 shots

FILE PHOTO: Prepared syringes of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine are seen at the Clinique de l'Estree - ELSAN private hospital in Stains as part of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination campaign in France, March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal temporarily suspended AstraZeneca COVID-19 shots on Monday, following on the heels of several other European countries amid concerns over possible serious side-effects.

Earlier, Spain, France, Germany and Italy had joined Denmark, Norway and several others in suspending use of the vaccine after reports of blood clots in some patients who had received the vaccine.

Graça Freitas, head of the health authority DGS, told a news conference that although the side effects were “extremely severe”, they were “extremely rare”, adding no such cases ahd been reported in Portugal so far.

The World Health Organisation said there was no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, an Anglo-Swedish company, with Oxford University.

The EU’s EMA medicines regulator said it would meet on Thursday to analyse the situation and reaffirmed its view that the benefits of the drug outweigh the risks.

Portugal, which has suffered 814,513 cases and 16,694 deaths, has so far administered around 1.1 million vaccine doses, with the vast majority of shots administered being those produced by Pfizer-BioNTech.

Henrique Gouveia e Melo, the head of Portugal’s vaccination taskforce, said the AstraZeneca shots that have so far arrived in Portugal would be kept in storage until further notice.

Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Gareth Jones