Portugal and Spain have joined 18 European countries in suspending the use of the AstraZeneca Covid jab over unproven fears it causes blood clots.
The moves comes despite scientists and the European Medicines Agency dismissing fears over clots, with warnings that the pausing of inoculations was 'reckless' and would have 'consequences'.
Thirteen European countries have now suspended their use of the shots altogether, while another five have black-listed specific batches despite reassurances from the UK, the WHO and the manufacturers that the jab is safe.
In an attempt to stem the tide of countries stopping the roll-out of the jab, the EMA insisted the rate of clots 'in vaccinated people seems not to be higher than that seen in the general population'.
The organisation, which is investigating the link between clots and the jab and will hold emergency meetings to discuss the safety of the jab tomorrow and Thursday, added that its benefits 'outweigh the risks of side effects'.
It last night insisted there was no reason to stop using the Oxford jab. Belgium's health ministry said it would continue using the jab because it was in a race against time to protect its population.
Whitehall sources claimed the suspensions were a 'cynical attempt to discredit' AstraZeneca in the wake of the bloc's row with the Anglo-Swedish drugs firm amid a shambolic rollout.
'I genuinely don't know what they are playing at,' said one insider. 'There is no data to support what they are doing. They just don't seem to be able to get over their disputes with AstraZeneca.
'But it is self-defeating because it is their own citizens who are missing out on a safe and effective vaccine at a time when Covid cases are rising.'
Among the 17million people across Europe who have received the vaccine there have been 37 reports of blood clots, which experts say is well below the expected level.
Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon leapt to the defence of the jab yesterday, saying it is 'safe and effective' and no such side effects have been witnessed in the UK, which has used more doses than anywhere else in the world.
Attempts to quell safety concerns over the jab came after a host of European nations announced they would be pausing their roll-out of the Oxford vaccine.
Portugal and Spain are the latest countries to stop using the jab, following in the footsteps of France, Italy and Germany.
Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Luxembourg, Slovenia and Bulgaria are the other European countries to have suspended AstraZeneca's vaccine.