Rare reaction risk: Scandinavians halt Moderna shots for young people

Rare reaction risk: Scandinavians halt Moderna shots for young people

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Copenhagen: Scandinavian authorities on Wednesday (Thursday AEDT) suspended or discouraged the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in young people because of an increased risk of heart inflammation, a very rare side effect associated with the shot.

Sweden suspended the use of Moderna for those recipients under 30, Denmark said those under 18 won’t be offered the Swiss-made vaccine, and Norway urged those under 30 to get the Pfizer vaccine instead.

Moderna vaccine.Credit:Bloomberg

The countries have adequate supplies of both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and will be able to continue their vaccination campaigns.

In neighbouring Finland, authorities are expected to announce their decision on Thursday (Friday AEDT), according to Dr. Hanna Nohynek, chief physician at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, told local broadcaster YLE.

All three countries based their decision on an unpublished study with Sweden’s Public Health Agency saying that it signals “an increased risk of side effects such as inflammation of the heart muscle or the pericardium” — the double-walled sac containing the heart and the roots of the main vessels. It added: “The risk of being affected is very small.”

Data suggests reported cases of rare heart inflammation are relatively higher after Moderna’s vaccine compared with the Pfizer/BioNTech shots, Canadian health officials said last week.

Anders Tegnell, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist, said they “follow the situation closely and act quickly to ensure that vaccinations against COVID-19 are always as safe as possible and at the same time provide effective protection” against the disease.

The preliminary information from the Nordic study has been sent to the European Medicines Agency’s adverse reaction committee to be assessed.

The study was conducted by Denmark’s Statens Serum Institut, a government agency that maps the spread of the coronavirus in the country; the Medical Products Agency in Sweden; Norway’s National Institute of Public Health; and the Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland. The final results were expected in about a month, said Bolette Soeborg of the Danish government health agency.

Monitoring the situation: the European Medicines Agency in Amsterdam. Credit:AP

Moderna’s vaccine was given the green light for use in anyone 18 and over across the 27-nation European Union in January.

In July, the European Medicines Agency recommended authorising Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 17, the first time that shot was cleared for anyone under 18. Canada also recently approved its use for those as young as 12.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is cleared for people 12 and older in Europe and North America.

Hundreds of millions of Moderna doses already have been administered to adults. In a study of more than 3700 children aged 12 to 17, the vaccine triggered the same signs of immune protection, and no COVID-19 diagnoses arose in the vaccinated group compared with four cases among those given dummy shots.

Sore arms, headache and fatigue were the most common side effects in young vaccine recipients, the same ones as for adults.

US and European regulators cautioned, however, that both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines appear linked to a rare reaction in teenagers and young adults — chest pain and heart inflammation.

Swedish health authorities said the heart symptoms “usually go away on their own,” but they must be assessed by a doctor. The conditions are most common among young men, in connection with, for example, viral infections such as COVID-19. In 2019, approximately 300 people under the age of 30 were treated in hospital with myocarditis.

Data point to an increased incidence also in connection with vaccination against COVID-19, mainly in adolescents and young adults and mainly in boys and men.

AP, Reuters

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