Ireland latest country to restrict use of AstraZeneca vaccine

Ireland became the latest European country to restrict the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, recommending on Monday that it only be given to those over 60 and presenting a new challenge to its vaccine rollout.

DUBLIN - A European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigation of blood clots in the brain reported by some people given the AstraZeneca vaccine has prompted an increasing number of European countries to change their recommendations on who should be given the shot.

The EMA changed its guidance on the vaccine as it found possible links with very rare cases of unusual blood clots with low blood platelet counts, although it said the vaccine's advantages still outweighed risks.

"While this is an extremely rare condition, consideration must be given to the fact that it has a very high risk of death or severe outcome," Karina Butler, head of Ireland's National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC), said in a statement.

NIAC said those under 60 who have received a first dose of AstraZeneca and do not have a high-risk medical condition should wait 16 weeks rather than 12 weeks for a second dose to allow further assessment as more evidence becomes available.

Ireland, which briefly halted the use of the vaccine last month while the EMA investigated the clotting incidents, has mainly relied on Pfizer-BioNTech, to date with AstraZeneca accounting for just over one in five shots administered.

The government is in the process of completing the rollout among those over 70 and plans to move onto the over 65s later this month.

Ireland has forecast it will receive 800,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in the second quarter - representing one-fifth of its total quarterly supply.

The government has said 80% of adults should have received at least one dose of a vaccine by the end of June, with 70% potentially fully vaccinated a month later. Almost 20% of the adult population have so far received at least one dose, with some 8% fully vaccinated.

Ireland's third shutdown in the last year has turned one of the world's highest incidence rates of COVID-19 in January into one of Europe's lowest. The number of cases per 100,000 people measured over the past 14 days fell to 132 on Monday.

There has been a total of 4,785 COVID-19 related deaths in Ireland.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by David Evans and Angus MacSwan)

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