Angela Merkel says she would take AstraZeneca vaccine

German chancellor endorses shot despite EU safety concerns

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday that she was ready to be vaccinated with AstraZeneca's coronavirus jab if offered when it is her turn to be inoculated.

"Yes I would take the AstraZeneca vaccine," she told journalists at a news conference, adding however she "would like to wait until it's my turn but I would in any case".

Merkel's firm endorsement of the vaccine came after its use was suspended for several days this week by major European countries, including Germany, over fears that it may cause blood clots.

Europe's medicines regulator EMA on Thursday cleared it for use after a review of the clotting cases, saying the vaccine was "safe and effective".

But questions surrounding the jab jointly developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford were revived when France on Friday recommended it should be given only to people aged 55 and over because of the clotting risks.

It comes as Germany's health minister said Europe does not have enough Covid-19 vaccines to halt the third wave of the virus.

Jens Spahn said it would still take “some weeks” to fully inoculate the most vulnerable even if promised deliveries arrive on time.

Mr Spahn said a lockdown extension loomed in Germany and hinted that restrictions may even be tightened.

"The rising case numbers may mean that we cannot take further opening steps in the weeks to come. On the contrary, we may even have to take steps backwards," Mr Spahn said.

The warning came as many EU countries, including Germany, resumed use of the AstraZeneca shot after European regulators ruled it was "safe and effective" after reports it may have caused a small number of serious blood clot incidents.

It could be a suspension – as long as a week in some cases – those countries come to rue, with surging infections and a slow vaccination campaign in the bloc.

The World Health Organisation renewed its support of the AstraZeneca vaccine and said it "continues to have a positive benefit-risk profile, with tremendous potential to prevent infections and reduce deaths across the world"

"The available data do not suggest any overall increase in clotting conditions such as deep venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism following administration of Covid-19 vaccines," WHO expoerts said.

Mr Spahn said case numbers continued to rise, with mutations of the virus making up a large proportion. He referred to “some fairly challenging weeks ahead”.

Lars Schaade, the vice president of Germany’s disease control agency, said the virus mutation first discovered in the UK was spreading rapidly across the country.

"It is very possible that we will have a similar situation over Easter to the one we had before Christmas, with very high case numbers, many severe cases and deaths, and hospitals that are overwhelmed," he said.

Mr Spahn said he was supportive of signing a national supply deal with Russia for its Sputnik V vaccine.

"I can also well imagine that we conclude contracts – and conclude them quickly," he said.

But he said more detail was needed on how many doses could be delivered.

"I am actually very much in favour of us doing it nationally if the European Union does not do something," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet the country's 16 state leaders on Monday to set new shutdown rules based on the latest pandemic developments.

The EU is under heavy pressure for its slow vaccination campaign, which has lagged behind countries such as Israel, the UAE, Britain and the US.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen suggested on Thursday the EU could block vaccine exports to countries with high inoculation rates, such as the UK, if supply issues are not resolved.

Many countries who suspended use of the AstraZeneca shot will resume using it, with French Prime Minister Jean Castex receiving the vaccine himself on Friday to try to bolster confidence.

epa09083947 Prime Minister Jean Castex, 55-years-old, reacts as he is vaccinated with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at the Hopital d'Instruction des Armees Begin, in Saint-Mande, on the outskirts of Paris, France, 19 March 2021. Castex is given the vaccine to boost confidence in the jab after the European medicine watchdog ruled it was safe to use. France's health authority recommended that only people aged 55 and over should be given the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine due to reports of blood clots, while giving the green light to resume its use after a brief suspension.  EPA/THOMAS COEX / POOL  MAXPPP OUT

But Denmark, Norway and Sweden did not follow suit and said they will investigate further before lifting their suspensions.

Denmark’s heath authority said that even though the EMA underlined the benefits of the vaccine and called it "safe and effective", the agency had said it "cannot rule out that there is a link between the few known cases of rare but severe blood clots and vaccination with the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca".

"We need time to get to the bottom of this," Soren Brostrom, head of the health authority separately said at a press conference.

"We need to dig deeper into these rare conditions, described both in Denmark and other countries, look into causal relations and see if there are other explanations," he said.

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