UPDATED Monday, March 15, 23:29: On Monday afternoon the French authorities suspended vaccinations using AstraZeneca for 24 hours while they seek further advice from the European Medicines Agency concerning its safety, even though the agency has already stated it’s perfectly safe.

The move followed similar decisions by Italy, Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and earlier on Monday, Germany. A total of 11 European countries have now suspended their use of the vaccine.

The British-Swedish vaccine has been associated with blood clots, although there is scant evidence of any causal connection.

France has been slow to reject the vaccine as it struggles to inoculate more people. Putting the vaccine on hold will further delay the country’s vaccine rollout. The vaccination program is also under strain as many French residents are sceptical about both the efficiency and safety of vaccines.

Meanwhile, so desperate is the situation in Europe, the Sputnik V vaccine developed by Russia is likely to receive approval for use within the next few days.

Most of Italy has gone into lockdown and there are calls for Germany, and possibly France, to follow suit as cases spike.

In the UK 37.98 percent of the population has received a first dose of vaccine as of March 15, while in the EU the average is 11.12. In France the figure is 10.75 percent.

PHOTO: An almost deserted street in Rome, which on Monday went into lockdown as one of the country’s red zone Reuters