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Canada, Switzerland lift ban on Novartis flu vaccines

ZURICH (Reuters) - Canadian and Swiss health authorities lifted a ban on Novartis's flu vaccines on Wednesday after the drugmaker showed they posed no risk to safety.

Italy last week banned the sale of four anti-influenza vaccines produced by Novartis pending tests for possible side effects after small particles were found in some of the injections.

Other countries including Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Spain and France followed suit by suspending deliveries, recommending the use of alternative products or recalling batches of the vaccines.

Swissmedic and Health Canada said information from Novartis and their own testing had shown that white particles found in the vaccines were normal clumps of protein particles and did not indicate a safety issue.

"According to the scientific data presented to us, the safety of the vaccines is not compromised by the stray aggregates," Swissmedic said in a statement.

Novartis' Chief Executive Joseph Jimenez said last week he was confident the vaccines were safe after the company reported third-quarter sales that missed forecasts.

The drugmaker said on Wednesday it was pleased with the Canadian and Swiss decisions and was working with other national health authorities to address concerns and resume deliveries.

Italy's drug safety authority said it was still reviewing the results of tests on Novartis's anti-influenza vaccines, but is "cautiously positive" about being able to lift a ban on some lots in coming days.

Novartis's vaccines Fluad and Agrippal, which are manufactured at a production site in Italy, were banned in Switzerland and Canada. Italy has also withdrawn subunit Influpozzi and adjuvanted Influpozzi.

Germany's vaccine agency said it had retracted approval of some lots of Novartis's vaccines Begripal and Fluad, meaning those particular lots could not be released onto the market.

Austria's health ministry said it is maintaining for now its advice for physicians to avoid using Novartis's Fluad and Sandovac in favor of other products.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley. Additional reporting by Steve Scherer in Rome, Angelika Gruber in Vienna and Ludwig Burger in Frankfurt; Editing by David Cowell)

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