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VACCINE

Spain probes death of Marbella teacher after AstraZeneca jab

Spanish health officials said Wednesday they were investigating three cases of people who suffered from thrombosis after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of whom died, AFP has reported.

Spain probes death of Marbella teacher after AstraZeneca jab
Photo: Miguel Riopa/AFP

The announcement by Spain’s AEMPS medicines agency came two days after the government suspended use of the vaccine for at least a fortnight as a precautionary measure.

The three cases occurred between late Monday and early Tuesday.

Local press reports said the person who died was a female 43-year-old high school teacher in the southern city of Marbella who had no pre-existing health conditions and who died of a cerebral haemorrhage.

Neither health authorities nor the clinic where she was admitted would confirm details, citing data protection laws.

Monday’s decision to suspend all AstraZeneca shots came just hours after Germany, France and Italy announced similar moves linked to fears the vaccine could generate serious side effects such as blood clots which can cause swellings, heart attacks and haemorrhages.

In a statement, the AEMPS said the three cases might be linked to the “formation of blood clots in areas of the body where they are less common” without drawing firm conclusions.

Its investigators were “gathering more information and carrying out an exhaustive investigation to find out whether there was not only a causal link to the administration of the vaccine, but also a possible temporal link”.

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Until the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine was suspended, 975,661 people in Spain had received a shot, official figures show.

Spain, which is also administering the Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna  vaccines, has so far recorded more than 72,500 coronavirus deaths from more than 3.2 million cases.

For now, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has said it is “firmly convinced” that benefits of AstraZeneca’s vaccine outweigh potential risks, insisting there was no evidence linking it to blood clots.

Its experts are nonetheless looking into “adverse events” associated with all vaccines, and the regulator is due to publish its conclusions on Thursday.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday its experts were still reviewing safety data on the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine following concerns around blood clots but recommended that injection programmes continue.

“The WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety is carefully assessing the latest available safety data,” the UN health agency said in a statement.

“At this time, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue.”

The global health body added that in mass vaccination campaigns, it was routine for countries to flag up potential adverse events after people have been immunised.

“This does not necessarily mean that the events are linked to vaccination itself, but it is good practice to investigate them. It also shows that the surveillance system works and that effective controls are in place,” it said.

“Vaccination against Covid-19 will not reduce illness or deaths from other causes.

“Thromboembolic events are known to occur frequently. Venous thromboembolism is the third most common cardiovascular disease globally.”

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COVID-19

Spain rules out EU’s advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 

Spain’s Health Ministry said Thursday there will be no mandatory vaccination in the country following the European Commission’s advice to Member States to “think about it” and Germany’s announcement that it will make vaccines compulsory in February.

Spain rules out EU's advice on compulsory Covid-19 vaccination 
A Spanish man being vaccinated poses with a custom-made T-shirt showing Spain's chief epidimiologist Fernando Simón striking a 'Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood' pose over the words "What part of keep a two-metre distance don't you understand?' Photo: José Jordan

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias on Thursday told journalists Covid-19 vaccines will continue to be voluntary in Spain given the “very high awareness of the population” with regard to the benefits of vaccination.

This follows the words of European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday, urging Member States to “think about mandatory vaccination” as more cases of the Omicron variant are detected across Europe. 

READ ALSO: Is Spain proving facts rather than force can convince the unvaccinated?

“I can understand that countries with low vaccine coverage are contemplating this and that Von der Leyen is considering opening up a debate, but in our country the situation is absolutely different,” Darias said at the press conference following her meeting with Spain’s Interterritorial Health Council.

According to the national health minister,  this was also “the general belief” of regional health leaders of each of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities she had just been in discussion with over Christmas Covid measures. 

READ MORE: Spain rules out new restrictions against Omicron variant

Almost 80 percent of Spain’s total population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, a figure which is around 10 percent higher if looking at those who are eligible for the vaccine (over 12s). 

It has the highest vaccination rate among Europe’s most populous countries.

Germany announced tough new restrictions on Thursday in a bid to contain its fourth wave of Covid-19 aimed largely at the country’s unvaccinated people, with outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking in favour of compulsory vaccinations, which the German parliament is due to vote on soon.

Austria has also already said it will make Covid-19 vaccines compulsory next February, Belgium is also considering it and Greece on Tuesday said it will make vaccination obligatory for those over 60.

But for Spain, strict Covid-19 vaccination rules have never been on the table, having said from the start that getting the Covid-19 jabs was voluntary. 

There’s also a huge legal implication to imposing such a rule which Spanish courts are unlikely to look on favourably. 

Stricter Covid restrictions and the country’s two states of alarm, the first resulting in a full national lockdown from March to May 2020, have both been deemed unconstitutional by Spain’s Constitutional Court. 

READ ALSO: Could Spain lock down its unvaccinated or make Covid vaccines compulsory?

The Covid-19 health pass to access indoor public spaces was also until recently consistently rejected by regional high courts for breaching fundamental rights, although judges have changed their stance favouring this Covid certificate over old Covid-19 restrictions that affect the whole population.

MAP: Which regions in Spain now require a Covid health pass for daily affairs?

“In Spain what we have to do is to continue vaccinating as we have done until now” Darias added. 

“Spaniards understand that vaccines are not only a right, they are an obligation because we protect others with them”.

What Spanish health authorities are still considering is whether to vaccinate their 5 to 11 year olds after the go-ahead from the European Medicines Agency, with regions such as Madrid claiming they will start vaccinating their young children in December despite there being no official confirmation from Spain’s Vaccine Committee yet.

READ MORE: Will Spain soon vaccinate its children under 12?

Spain’s infection rate continues to rise day by day, jumping 17 points up to 234 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday. There are now also five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the country, one through community transmission.

Hospital bed occupancy with Covid patients has also risen slightly nationwide to 3.3 percent, as has ICU Covid occupancy which now stands at 8.4 percent, but the Spanish government insists these figures are “almost three times lower” than during previous waves of the coronavirus pandemic.

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