After vaccine freeze, European countries seek a quick thaw

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A woman pick up a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine from the box "Tuesday" from a fridge while a box "Monday" is seen at left, in a vaccination center in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, southwestern France, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. With coronavirus cases rising in many places, governments faced the grimmest of dilemmas Tuesday: push on with a vaccine that is known to save lives or suspend use of AstraZeneca over reports of dangerous blood clots in a few recipients, even as the European regulator said there was "no indication" the shot was responsible. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

BRUSSELS – First, France abruptly halted AstraZeneca vaccinations. Now, the French prime minister wants to get one as soon as he can.

With the virus rebounding from Paris to Budapest and beyond, European governments that rushed to suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccines after reports of blood clots are realizing the far-reaching impact of the move. And they suddenly seem eager for any signal — or fig leaf — that allows them to resume the shots.

That could come as soon as Thursday, when the European Medicines Agency releases initial results of its investigations into whether there is a connection between the vaccine and the blood clots. So far, the EMA and World Health Organization have said there’s no evidence the vaccine is to blame.

But experts worry that the damage already has been done. The suspensions by Germany, France, Italy, Spain and others have fueled doubts about the oft-maligned AstraZeneca vaccine, and vaccination efforts in general, as the world struggles to vanquish the pandemic.

“There are thousands of new cases in Germany, France, Italy, etc. every day. If you are halting vaccination during this ongoing pandemic, you know that people will die,” Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, told The Associated Press.

While stressing the importance of investigating potentially dangerous side effects, he said, “It’s totally possible to investigate the signals without stopping the vaccine rollout.”

Some countries are sticking to the AstraZeneca vaccines. India vowed Wednesday to continue vaccinations, hours before Brazil’s health minister celebrated the first doses of AstraZeneca bottled in the country.

New coronavirus cases grew 10% globally last week, driven by surges in Europe and the Americas, the WHO reported Wednesday, urging continued vaccinations.