Updated 5.45pm

The Maltese health authorities are continuing with their plan of administering the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to anyone under 70, Times of Malta can confirm. 

On Wednesday, the European Medicines Authority (EMA) said that blood clots should be listed as a "very rare" side effect of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine but that the jab's benefits continue to outweigh the risks.

At the same time, the UK announced people under 30 would be offered an alternative vaccine. The vaccine made headlines worldwide after several countries stopped its use following dozens of cases of people with clots in blood vessels draining from the brain after receiving jabs, some of them fatal.

No such cases have been reported in Malta. 

In comments to Times of Malta on Thursday, Medicines Authority chair Anthony Serracino Inglott confirmed the health authorities would continue to administer the AstraZeneca jab to those eligible. 

He said the island is monitoring developments closely but would continue to follow the EMA's direction. 

On the UK's decision to offer under 30s an alternative, Serracino Inglott said the local health authorities had mulled over the various options but have presently opted to stick to the advice of the EU's drug regulator.

"If at some point we see that we need to offer some people other vaccines and we have the facility to do so, then we will. We're not excluding anything but at the moment there is no change to our plans," Serracino Inglott said. 

Although all side effects need to be taken seriously, the medicines authority chief said the priority is always to save people's lives and right now, vaccines are the "greatest tool" for this. 

"If anyone experiences even the smallest symptom they think might be related to this, they should speak up. But the vaccines have great advantages and we cannot lose sight of this. This is the most powerful tool we have right now," he said. 

On Wednesday, when asked about the impact halting use of AstraZeneca would have on Malta's roll out plans, Health Minister Chris Fearne said the island had enough Pfizer and Moderna doses for the entire population. He did acknowledge, however, that with the AstraZeneca jab in use, herd immunity would be achieved earlier than initially planned as the rollout was speedier. 

What to look out for

Side effects within two or three days following vaccination, the majority of which are mild and local in nature, are expected and common.

However, people who experience any severe symptoms – such as shortness of breath, chest pain, leg swelling, persistent abdominal (belly) pain, neurological symptoms, such as severe and persistent headaches or blurred vision, tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of injection – from around four to 20 days following vaccination, should seek medical attention.

The medicines authority encouraged vaccinated people and healthcare professionals to be aware of side effects, on any vaccine, especially when these call for immediate action.

Suspected adverse drug reactions should be reported through the Malta Medicines Authority Form and sent to Sir Temi Zammit Buildings, Malta Life Sciences Park, San Ġwann SĠN 3000, or here.

What about other countries?

While the majority of European countries have continued using the AstraZeneca vaccine, some have imposed restrictions on who can be administered the doses. 

  • The United Kingdom - Those aged 30 and under will be offered an alternative to AstraZeneca if they wished not to take it.

  • France - Health authorities recommend reserving AstraZeneca for those older than 55.

  • Germany -  Use is limited to those over the age of 60.

  • The Netherlands - Use of the vaccine has been temporarily suspended with a decision on resuming vaccination expected on Thursday. 

  • Italy - Use is limited to those over the age of 60.

  • Belgium - Use is limited to those over the age of 55.

  • Spain - Use of the vaccine has been suspended.

  • Denmark - Use of the vaccine has been suspended.

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