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HEALTH

‘Possible link’ between AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, EMA concludes

The European Medicines Agency has come to the conclusion that the unusual blood clots suffered by numerous people around Europe should be considered as rare side effects of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, but that overall the benefits of the jab outweigh the risk.

'Possible link' between AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots, EMA concludes
Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

A statement published online read: “The EMA’s safety committee has concluded today that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should be listed as very rare side effects of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine.”

The EMA added however that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.

While millions of doses of the vaccine developed with Oxford University have been administered, small numbers of people have developed deadly blood clots, which prompted countries including the European Union’s three largest nations – Germany, France and Italy – to temporarily suspend injections pending the EMA investigation.

In March the EMA said the vaccine was “safe and effective” in protecting people against Covid-19 but that it couldn’t rule out a link to blood clots, and that more investigations were needed.

On Wednesday the EMA said the AstraZeneca vaccine should continue to be used for all age groups but that people should be told of the possible rare side effects. The announcement came as the UK’s own drugs regulator said the AZ vaccine should now only be given to over 30s.

The EMA said it was “reminding healthcare professionals and people receiving the vaccine to remain aware of the possibility of very rare cases of blood clots combined with low levels of blood platelets occurring within two weeks of vaccination.”

One plausible explanation for the combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is an immune response, the EMA said but that it had not identified any clear risk factors for causing the clots including age or gender.

So far, most of the cases reported have occurred in women under 60 years of age within two weeks of vaccination. 

The EMA advised that people who have received the vaccine should seek medical assistance immediately if they develop symptoms of this combination of blood clots and low blood platelets.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain, swelling in legs, abdominal pain, severe headaches, blurred vision and tiny blood spots under the skin at the sight of the injection.

The EMA committee carried out an in-depth review of 62 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis and 24 cases of splanchnic vein thrombosis reported in the EU drug safety database (EudraVigilance) as of 22 March 2021, 18 of which were fatal

The agency concluded: “COVID-19 is associated with a risk of hospitalisation and death. The reported combination of blood clots and low blood platelets is very rare, and the overall benefits of the vaccine in preventing COVID-19 outweigh the risks of side effects.”

Germany, France and Italy have all restarted AstraZeneca vaccines, but in the case of France and Germany with extra guidelines on the age of patients it should be used for. France is currently not administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to under 55s or over 75s.

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ENERGY

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.

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