astrazeneca vaccine vial
© GETTY
The Netherlands has become the latest country to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
ASTRAZENECA'S Covid vaccine has been suspended in the Netherlands hours after Ireland also paused the drug, based on reports of possible side effects.

The Dutch government announced the move saying the suspension would begin immediately and remain in place until at least March 29. Health minister Hugo de Jonge said: "Based on new information from Norway and Denmark, we are pausing the administration of the AstraZeneca corona vaccine for two weeks as a precautionary measure and pending further investigation."

The move comes after Norway's health authorities said on Saturday that three health workers who had recently received the vaccine had experienced severe side effects.

They were being treated in hospital for bleeding, blood clots and a low count of blood platelets, according to the authorities.

The Netherlands' announcement came just hours after Ireland also said it was temporarily suspending the AstraZeneca shot "out of an abundance of caution".

Ireland's National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) recommended the move while authorities await more information from the the European Medicines Agency (EMA) in the coming days.

Ireland's deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said authorities had received some reports of clotting similar to those reported in Europe last week.

But he said the cases in Ireland were not as serious as those reported in Norway.

Dr Glynn said the fact that the Norwegian cases related to a cluster of four unusual clotting events involving the brain in 30 to 40 year-olds raised the higher level of concern.

He said Ireland had chosen to act now because it had been due to administer the AstraZeneca jab to people of a similar age with serious underlying conditions next week.

He explained: "It may be nothing, we may be overreacting and I sincerely hope that in a week's time that we will have been accused of being overly-cautious.

"Hopefully we will have data to reassure us in a few short days and we will be back up and running with this."

AstraZeneca vaccinations make up 20 percent of the 590,000 shots already given to people in Ireland.

Those who have been inoculated with the vaccine are mainly healthcare workers.

This is due to the fact that the shot was not initially recommended for those over 70 and the company supplied far fewer vaccines to the EU than agreed.

AstraZeneca on Sunday said it had conducted a review covering more than 17 million people vaccinated in the European Union and the UK which had shown no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

The drug maker said in a statement that it "would like to offer its reassurance on the safety of its COVID-19 vaccine based on clear scientific evidence."

The company added: "The safety of the public will always come first."

AstraZeneca said it would be "keeping this issue under close review but available evidence does not confirm that the vaccine is the cause."

The move to temporarily ban the jab comes as Europe struggles to keep coronavirus under control, with surging cases in Italy and France.

Italy is struggling to contain the rapid spread of infections and has mandated the closure of all shops, restaurants and schools from today.

The country will enter a total lockdown over the Easter weekend, from April 3-5.

Cases have been rising across Italy for the past six weeks, exceeding 25,000 a day.

France is also facing an upsurge in cases and last week hospitals in and around Paris were told to reduce non-Covid treatments by 40 percent, due to increased demand for intensive care beds.

The number of patients in ICU beds reached a 14-week high last Monday, at 3,849, according to the AFP news agency.

Covid cases also remain high, with a seven-day rolling average of 21,270 daily cases since mid-January.

This comares to the UK, which has seen a steady decline in covid cases and deaths since the end of January, as a rapid vaccine programme has been rolled out.

Over the past seven days, the UK has recorded 39,918 new cases, 1,015 new deaths.

Ireland and Netherlands have followed in the footsteps of Denmark, Norway and Iceland in suspending the use of the jab.

On Friday Thailand became the first country outside of Europe to impose a ban on AstraZeneca shots.

Italy's northern region of Piedmont on Sunday said it would stop using a batch of AstraZeneca vaccines after a teacher died following his vaccination on Saturday.

Austria also stopped using a particular batch last week.

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