(Newsweek) Officials in Italy have seized nearly 400,000 doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and are conducting a criminal investigation after a man died hours after receiving the shot.
On Monday, prosecutors in the northern Italian region of Piedmont said they had seized the doses after Sandro Tognatti, a 57-year-old music teacher, fell ill and died shortly after getting vaccinated on Sunday.
Officials have not yet determined if Tognatti’s death is related to the inoculation. On Sunday, Piedmont’s regional government suspended the use of a vaccine batch, and prosecutors the next day said it was important to seize doses to ensure the vaccine “does not lead to further consequences.”
“It is therefore important to ensure that continued administration of the drug throughout the country does not lead to further consequences [harmful or fatal]…until we are completely sure that [Tognatti’s] death cannot be attributed to the above-mentioned inoculation,” prosecutor Teresa Angela Camelio said in a statement, according to Reuters.
The teacher received his vaccine in his hometown of Biella on Saturday afternoon and went to bed that night with a high fever, his wife told Italian media. The next morning, an ambulance was called after his condition worsened, but he died shortly after, the New York Post reported.
Prosecutors opened the probe into his death later that day and are investigating it as a possible manslaughter, according to the newspaper.
The investigation comes after a similar situation happened last week in Sicily, when local magistrates ordered the seizure of a separate batch of AstraZeneca vaccines after two men who had recently been inoculated suddenly died, Reuters reported.
However, the national Italian government has said it does not have evidence of a connection between the deaths and the shots and has allowed the vaccine administration to continue.
Meanwhile, the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was created by British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, has faced growing scrutiny across other European countries.
So far, 17 European countries have suspended use of the vaccine after unconfirmed suspicions that it may be responsible for causing blood clots in some recipients. Out of more than 17 million people vaccinated with the shot in the European Union and Britain, there have been 37 reports of blood clots.
The 17 countries are Austria, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden.
Despite those concerns, numerous scientific bodies—including the World Health Organization, the European Medicines Agency and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency—have stressed that there is no evidence of a link between the vaccine and blood-clotting incidents.
Reached for comment on Tuesday, a spokesperson for AstraZeneca directed Newsweek to a statement from the company in which it said “the safety of all is our first priority.” The company added, “We are working with national health authorities and European officials and look forward to their assessment later this week.”
The statement continued, “Around 17 million people in the EU and UK have now received our vaccine, and the number of cases of blood clots reported in this group is lower than the hundreds of cases that would be expected among the general population.”
“Thus far—you have to keep following these things very carefully—there are no safety signals that turn out to be red flags,” Fauci said.