President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday that France would stop use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine pending a safety check by the European Medicines Agency.
“The decision has been taken… to postpone the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, in the hope that we will restore it easily if the EMA’s judgement permits it,” Macron said at a press conference, adding that the EMA will make an announcement on Tuesday afternoon.
“We have a simple guide, to be informed by science and the competent health authorities and to do it as part of a European strategy,” he said.
He said the suspension was, for now, effective “until tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon” when the EMA should deliver its opinion.
Several European countries, including Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, have suspended usage of the shot, which was jointly developed with the University of Oxford, after reported blood clotting incidents in Europe.
The decision reverses previous guidance from French health authorities to continue using the jab and came just a day after French Prime Minister Jean Castex had defended the vaccine.
“At this stage, we must have confidence in this vaccine,” Castex said on Sunday.
“If not, we’ll have delays with our vaccinations and French people will be less protected and the health crisis will last longer.”
Speaking alongside Macron at the press conference in southwest France, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced no change for Spain, but said it was important “to give a message of guarantee and safety to the whole of the European population regarding the vaccination process.”
Macron also said that the French government would have “decisions to take” in the next few days in order to control the spread of Covid-19 cases after an uptick in cases and a rise in hospitalisations.
“We will probably have new decisions to take in the coming days,” Macron said.
He said the government needed to look at “the reality of the epidemic, town by town, region by region: it’s what we are doing.”
Hospitals in the Paris region are close to capacity, with patients being transferred out of the capital region to other parts of France, while other hotspots of infection are in the north around Calais and the Cote d’Azur.
Macron decided against a third national lockdown at the end of January, deciding instead to continue with a policy of a 6:00 pm nation-wide curfew and a partial shutdown of bars, restaurants and other social and entertainment meeting places.