April 16, 2021, 3:55 p.m. EDT

Norway delays decision to ditch AstraZeneca vaccine, warning it could impact J&J rollout

By Lina Saigol

The Norwegian government has pushed back against advice from the country’s public health authority to permanently drop drug company AstraZeneca’s (NAS:AZN) (LON:UK:AZN) vaccine from its immunization program, saying it needs more time to decide whether to restart use of the shot.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) on Thursday recommended ending use of the shot, saying it now has enough information about the “connection between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the rare and serious incidents of low platelets, blood clots and bleeding” to reach its conclusion.

The recommendation came a day after Denmark became the first country to permanently stop using AstraZeneca’s shot , after its own review found a possible link to very rare cases of blood clots. Several other European countries have restricted the use of the vaccine to certain age groups.

However, Norwegian health minister Bent Høie said that the government would appoint an expert group to further examine the risks associated with AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which has been suspended in the country since March 11 following concerns of blood clots. It aims to deliver its report by May 10.

“The government believes that we do not have a good enough basis for drawing a final conclusion that the AstraZeneca vaccine should be removed from the Norwegian vaccination program at this point,” Høie told a news conference on Thursday, which was reported by Reuters.

Read: Mass vaccination was never expected to go perfectly — or provide 100% protection against COVID-19

The evaluation will also look at whether Norway should use the COVID-19 vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson (NYS:JNJ) . The U.S. pharmaceutical delayed the rollout of its shot in Europe this week, after U.S. health agencies called for a pause in its use while they investigate several incidents of rare blood clots.

“If we say a final ‘no’ to the AstraZeneca vaccine, this could also impact our ability to consider using the Janssen vaccine, which is built on the same technology,” Høie said.

Both AstraZeneca and J&J use the same vaccine technology, which differs from the mRNA vaccines developed jointly by U.S. drug company Pfizer (NYS:PFE) and German biotech BioNTech (NAS:BNTX) , and the one produced by U.S. biotech Moderna (NAS:MRNA) .

The FHI estimated that stopping use of both the AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine could delay completion of Norway’s vaccine rollout for adults by seven weeks until late September.

Read: Blood clots as prevalent with Pfizer and Moderna vaccine as with AstraZeneca’s: study

In an effort to speed up the Europe’s sluggish vaccination program, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week announced a deal for an additional 50 million more doses of the Pfizer–BioNTech shot. That will bring total supplies of the Pfizer–BioNTech vaccine to the 27-member bloc to 250 million doses in the second quarter, she said.

European and U.K. drug regulators have both said they found a link between AstraZeneca’s vaccine and blood clots, but stressed the benefits still outweigh the risks .

AstraZeneca has acknowledged the findings from the EMA, as well as a separate review from the U.K.’s  Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency,  noting that they “reaffirmed the vaccine offers a high-level of protection against all severities of COVID-19 and that these benefits continue to far outweigh the risks.”

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said it recognizes and respects the decision taken by Denmark. “Implementation and rollout of the vaccine program is a matter for each country to decide, based on local conditions. We will continue to collaborate with the regulators and local authorities in order to provide all available data to inform their decisions,” the spokesperson added in an emailed statement.

Separately on Friday, AstraZeneca said its planned $39 billion takeover of Alexion Pharmaceuticals (NAS:ALXN) has been cleared by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission review. The deal, which will boost AstraZeneca’s presence in rare diseases, is scheduled to close in the third quarter of the year, pending regulatory clearance in the U.K., the European Union and Japan.

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