Italy's Piedmont region stops use of AstraZeneca vaccine batch

FILE PHOTO: Vials labelled "AstraZeneca COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" and a syringe are seen in front of a displayed AstraZeneca logo

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's northern region of Piedmont said on Sunday it would stop using a batch of AstraZeneca coronavirus shots after a teacher died following his vaccination on Saturday.

The region, around the northern city of Turin, had initially suspended all AstraZeneca vaccines in order to identify and isolate the batch from which the jab administered to the teacher, from the town of Biella, came.

The decision, following similar moves elsewhere in Europe, was precautionary and the region is awaiting the results of checks which will verify whether there is a connection between the death and the vaccination, the regional government said in an online statement.

The statement did not specify what batch it had banned nor did it say how the teacher died. Italian newspapers reported it was batch ABV5811 and a source close to the regional government confirmed it.

"It is an act of extreme prudence, while we verify whether there is a connection. There have been no critical issues with the administration of vaccines to date," Luigi Genesio Icardi, head of regional health services, said in the statement.

Italy's medicines authority Aifa said later on Sunday that alarm over the safety of the AstraZeneca doses was not justified and that no link had been proved between the deaths and the administration of the jabs.

Aifa added in the statement that the monitoring of all side effects linked to vaccinations was ongoing, both on a national and a European level, with the European Medicines Agency (EMA).

On Thursday the regulator banned the use of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine belonging to the ABV2856 batch. Sources told Reuters the decision had been taken after the deaths of two men in Sicily.

Aifa had said that the ban was precautionary, adding that no link had been established between the vaccine and subsequent "serious adverse events".

Authorities in Denmark, Norway and Iceland have suspended the use of the vaccine over blood clotting issues, while Austria stopped using a batch of AstraZeneca shots last week while investigating a death from coagulation disorders.

The EMA has said there is no indication that the events were caused by the vaccination, a view that was echoed by the World Health Organisation on Friday.

AstraZeneca also said it had found no evidence of increased risk of deep-vein thrombosis.

Ireland also temporarily suspended AstraZeneca's vaccine "out of an abundance of caution" on Sunday, citing reports from the Norwegian Medicines Agency regarding a cluster of serious blood clotting in some recipients there.

Earlier on Sunday, Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza said vaccines in Italy and Europe were "effective and safe", with all checks being carried out, when asked in an interview about the ban.

(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Nick Macfie, Jane Merriman and Daniel Wallis)