Covid-19 in Bulgaria: PM Borissov orders suspension of AstraZeneca jabs

Bulgaria’s Prime Minister Boiko Borissov said on March 12 that he ordered a temporary halt to mass vaccination using the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine until there is “a written position from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) that it is safe.”

“Until all doubts are dispelled and experts guarantee that it holds no risk for people, we are stopping immunisation using that vaccine,” Borissov said after a meeting with several ministers to discuss the pandemic and the Cabinet’s response.

Bulgaria becomes the latest European country to suspend vaccination using the AstraZeneca-Oxford jab after reports that some recipients of the vaccine developed blood clots.

Denmark, Norway and Iceland stopped all AstraZeneca vaccinations pending an investigation, while Italy and Austria banned the jabs from one specific batch of the vaccine. Vaccines from that one-million batch have been delivered to a number of European countries, Bulgaria included.

Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said that he was prepared to issue the formal order to halt inoculations using the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine until investigations by EMA and Bulgaria’s medicines agency were completed.

The formal order suspending AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine jabs, however, was issued by the medicines agency and cited a case of “serious unwanted medical reaction” in the district of Plovdiv.

Angelov told reporters in Plovdiv later in the day that a 55-year-old woman died after receiving the first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine on March 11.

She had previous history of heart and other concomitant diseases. The AstraZeneca jab was not part of the batch that prompted other European countries to suspend vaccinations, Angelov said.

The autopsy did not find blood clots and there was no proof that the vaccine jab caused the death, but the administration of AstraZeneca-Oxford jabs was being suspended as a precautionary measure, pending the results of an investigation, Angelov said.

He said that the investigation would be completed next week and said he did not expect it to find a direct correlation between the jab and the death.

Earlier, during the meeting with Borissov, Angelov said more than 15 000 people received jabs on March 11, as quoted by a Cabinet media statement, but did not say how many of those were AstraZeneca-Oxford doses.

March 11 was the first day that vaccines were administered to people using the online registration system launched last week. Due to the shortage of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, users of the online system were only administered AstraZeneca-Oxford jabs.

In Plovdiv, Angelov said that the online registration system was being temporarily suspended, with existing registrations for vaccination timeslots to be moved automatically in the system.

AstraZeneca vaccines, including a new delivery of about 80 000 doses that arrived on March 12, would be stored and could be administered once the investigation into the death in Plovdiv district was concluded.

Available doses of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines would continue to be used for jabs administered to categories of people covered by the government’s five-phase plan.

Bulgaria was due to receive 21 060 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on March 15 and 33 600 Moderna jabs on March 19, the head of Bulgaria’s medicines agency Bogdan Kirilov said at the meeting with Borissov.

Education Minister Krassimir Vulchev said that data from recent days showed evidence of rising coronavirus cases in schools. As a result, the ministry recommended that pupils in grades five through 12 in 18 districts with morbidity rates above 300 per 100 000 population should return to distance learning instead of attending classes in person.

If necessary, all classes could be held in an online environment, but such restrictions would continue to be decided by local authorities rather than imposed nationally, Borissov said.

“We are not afraid of responsibility. We are using the local approach not because we are afraid of making the decision at national level but because there are towns and villages where there are fewer cases and I see no point in using a common denominator,” Borissov was quoted as saying.

Borissov also ordered the drafting of rules that would stipulate the health-related conditions under which tourists could visit Bulgaria. “This will allow the tourism industry to prepare” for the summer season, he said.


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The Sofia Globe staff

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