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Major European nations suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccine

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FILE - In this Monday, March 8, 2021 file photo a health worker shows the media how she prepares a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to a patient at a vaccination center set up in front of Rome's Termini central station. Nearly a dozen countries including Germany, France and Italy temporarily suspended their use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine after reports last week that some people in Denmark and Norway who got a dose developed blood clots, even though there's no evidence that the shot was responsible. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino, File)

BERLIN – A cascading number of European countries — including Germany, France, Italy and Spain — suspended use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and international regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame.

AstraZeneca's formula is one of three vaccines in use on the continent. But the escalating concern is another setback for the European Union's vaccination drive, which has been plagued by shortages and other hurdles and is lagging well behind the campaigns in Britain and the U.S.

The EU's drug regulatory agency called a meeting for Thursday to review experts' findings on the AstraZeneca shot and decide whether action needs to be taken.

The furor comes as much of Europe is tightening restrictions on schools and businesses amid surging cases of COVID-19.

Germany's health minister said the decision to suspend AstraZeneca shots was taken on the advice of the country's vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.

“Today’s decision is a purely precautionary measure,” Jens Spahn said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his country will likewise stop dispensing the vaccine until at least Tuesday afternoon. Italy also announced a temporary ban, as did Spain, Portugal and Slovenia.

Other countries that have done so over the past few days include Denmark, which was the first, as well as Ireland, Thailand, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Congo and Bulgaria. Canada and Britain are standing by the vaccine for now.