Spain and Italy have limited the use of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to people aged over 60, potentially further slowing the European Union’s sluggish immunization program, which lags behind countries including the U.S., the U.K. and Israel.
The two countries made the decision on Wednesday after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it had found a possible link between drug company AstraZeneca’s AZN, -1.63% AZN, +2.93% vaccine and very rare cases of blood clotting issues in adults. The EMA recommended no age restrictions, as it stressed that the benefits of the shot outweigh the risks.
Read: EU and U.K. regulators say AstraZeneca vaccine is safe, but Brits under 30 to be offered alternative shot
The Italian ministry of health recommended that the vaccine only be used on people over 60 years old, but said those under 60 who have already received their first AstraZeneca dose can also take a second one.
Last month, French and German health officials restricted the use of the AstraZeneca shot for the over-55s and over-60s, respectively, following concerns over unusual blood clotting in some recipients.
Earlier on Wednesday, the U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) changed its guidance over the vaccine, recommending that people under 30 be offered alternative shots, such as the one jointly developed by biotech BioNTech BNTX, -3.27% and drug company Pfizer PFE, -0.39%, or biotech Moderna’s MRNA, -1.54% one, due to a “vanishingly” rare side effect of blood clots in the brain.
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Shares in AstraZeneca rose 2.04% in London morning trading on Thursday. The stock is down less than 1% in the year to date, according to data from FactSet.
The decision by Spain and Italy to restrict use of the shot could make it harder for the EU to meet its target of vaccinating 70% of its adult population by the end of the summer.
The 27-member bloc already failed to reach its first milestone of having at least 80% of people over the age of 80 and 80% of healthcare workers vaccinated against COVID-19 by the end of March, according to the most recent data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The pace of vaccinations could pick up later this month when pharmaceutical Johnson & Johnson JNJ, +0.13% starts delivering its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine to the EU. The bloc has signed a firm order for 200 million J&J doses and an option for 200 million more.
Read: Oxford halts trial of AstraZeneca COVID vaccine in children and teenagers over blood-clotting issue
AstraZeneca on Wednesday acknowledged the findings from the EMA and the U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, noting that both reviews “reaffirmed the vaccine offers a high-level of protection against all severities of COVID-19 and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks.”
The U.K.-Swedish drug company said it was working with global regulators to better understand the individual cases, epidemiology and possible mechanisms that could explain these extremely rare events.
Separately on Wednesday, the World Health Organization’s advisory committee on vaccine safety said that although a blood clot link was “plausible” it was “not confirmed,” and the cases were “very rare” among 200 million people vaccinated with AstraZeneca globally.