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UPDATE 2-Spain extends use of AstraZeneca vaccine to 18-65 year olds

(Updates with official confirmation)

MADRID, March 22 (Reuters) - Spain will extend the age range for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to 18-65 year olds from 18-55 year olds when it resumes use of the shot this week, Health Minister Carolina Darias said on Monday after meeting regional health chiefs.

Darias said authorities would eventually extend the age limit beyond 65 if it is backed by a national health panel and there is enough supply, after a major late-stage trial in Chile, Peru and the United States found the vaccine was 79% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19.

Authorities said last week that Spain would resume using the AstraZeneca vaccine on Wednesday after it and several other European countries suspended the shot on concerns related to blood-clot cases.

About 20% of the volunteers in the latest trial, for which results were released on Monday, were aged 65-plus, compared to 5.7% in the previous study, which led some European countries to hesitate about using the AstraZeneca shot for older people.

Spain has been among the countries worst-hit by the pandemic with 3.2 million registered cases and over 73,000 deaths.

The virus’ incidence rate remained stable on Monday with an average 128 infections out of 100,000 people in the last 14 days, but Health Ministry officials warned there had been a recent change of trend that foresees an increase in infections.

“The virus has not been defeated. It is in our reach to avoid a new uptick and therefore a fourth wave,” Darias told a news briefing. (Reporting by Nathan Allen, Inti Landauro and Joan Faus Editing by Ingrid Melander and Catherine Evans)

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