LONDON – The decision of many European countries to suspend use of the Oxford AstraZeneca coronavirus shot could have far-reaching ramifications, analysts say, as vaccine uptake and the wider vaccination program are already lagging behind in the region.
Sweden and Latvia were the last countries to stop using the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday over concerns about blood clots. The move follows, among others, Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Ireland to temporarily suspend use of the vaccine as a precautionary measure, while assessing whether there is a connection between the shot and an increased risk of blood clots.
The World Health Organization, drug regulators, and the vaccine maker itself have tried to downplay persistent safety concerns. There is currently no evidence to suggest that there is a link between the shot and an increased risk of developing blood clots, which are common in the general population.
In particular, the WHO has asked the countries not to pause with the shot in their vaccination rollouts. The Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has reviewed the available data and is in close contact with the EU medicines regulatory authority, the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Additional expert guidance is expected to be announced shortly after the security reviews: the WHO Security Committee will meet on Tuesday, while the EMA will meet on Thursday.
EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said in a news conference on Tuesday that EU member states’ decision to suspend use of the vaccine could result in lower public confidence in the shot, which affects vaccines confidence, but our job is to make sure that the products we approve are safe. “
It is not the first time that Oxford-AstraZeneca’s vaccine has come under pressure, as the drug maker has previously discussed its trial methodology and data, the effectiveness of the shot in those over 65 and a publicized dispute with the EU over the Vaccine questioned was supplying supplies to the block.
However, health experts and policy analysts are questioning whether much of Europe’s decision to discontinue use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is misplaced and is likely to further damage or even kill trust in the vaccine if a third wave of infections emerges Paris to Prague and the introduction of EU vaccines is already slow.
“At this stage, national regulators are likely to act conservatively and out of caution. A risk-averse approach will help reassure the public and limit the impact on future adoption. But the prospect of a longer review or an outright ban cannot be ruled out, “said Federico Santi, Senior Europe Analyst at Eurasia Group, in a statement on Monday.
“Either way, the damage has been done. Willingness to take the AstraZeneca vaccine has already been lower than that of mRNA vaccines available in the EU, as the effectiveness of the headlines and initial confusion about its suitability for those over 65 years of age initially began were confused, “he said.
Some wonder if the decision to pause the vaccine has a political element in light of previous disputes over the vaccine.
Several European countries initially decided not to recommend the vaccine for people over 65 as there wasn’t enough evidence that it was effective before reversing that decision as more data became available showing it was the number severe Covid infections and hospital stays were highly effective in reducing deaths.
Such decisions, which were not supported by derogatory remarks from some European heads of state and government (French President Emmanuel Macron once said the vaccine was “virtually ineffective” for those over 65), were viewed by some Europeans only as reluctant to Oxford -AstraZeneca viewed vaccine. The introduction of vaccination in the EU is already much slower than in the UK and US, and the bloc leadership has come under fire for its vaccination strategy.
“We know where this is going, it will lead to a loss of confidence in the vaccine,” Natasha Loder, health policy editor for The Economist, told the BBC’s Today program on Tuesday.
When asked whether the suspension had a political dimension, Loder said, “It could be that this vaccine feels bad.” Nevertheless, the decision has “no rational basis” and could be dangerous. “This precautionary principle is nonsense when you are in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.
“This is a safe vaccine and when they realize that this is a safe vaccine in Europe they will have to face the aftermath of all this media coverage.”
However, not all EU countries are following the same path. Belgium, Poland and the Czech Republic say they will continue to use the shot, saying the benefits outweigh the risks.
AstraZeneca has vigorously defended its vaccine, stating in a statement Sunday that the number of blood clots recorded after vaccination was fewer than would naturally be expected.