LONDON – There are signs that the different – and changing – rules of use in Europe regarding the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University are creating further confusion and suspicion among citizens.
Not only have EU citizens faced a barrage of negative sentiment towards the vaccine, even from top officials themselves, but they have seen the shot suspended by more than a dozen European countries after concerns about a small number of blood reports clots became loud.
The European Medicines Agency and World Health Organization, after safety reviews of the data, recommended continued use of the shot, saying its benefits outweighed the possible risks. But those fears have not gone away and there is now confusion about which age group should and can take the vaccine.
On Tuesday, Germany stopped using the AstraZeneca shot on all citizens under 60, citing renewed concerns after a small number of reports of rare but serious blood clots. Earlier this week, some hospitals in Berlin initially stopped vaccinating women under the age of 55 with AstraZeneca’s shot.
Germany initially only allowed the vaccine to be used under 65 years of age due to insufficient data to show that it was safe and effective for the elderly, despite reversing that decision in early March.
Meanwhile, Spain decided on Wednesday to extend the use of the vaccine to key workers over 65 years of age. The vaccine was previously limited to the 55 to 65 age group, but is now made available to priority groups in this age group such as health workers, police officers and teachers.
In France, the AstraZeneca vaccine was initially not approved even for people over 65 years of age. French President Emmanuel Macron has now been criticized by many French commentators for his chair epidemiology, falsely saying that the vaccine is “virtually ineffective” for those over 65.
France later reversed that stance when more clinical trial data emerged, saying the vaccine would be approved for people with comorbidities, including those between the ages of 65 and 74.
Confused? You’re not alone. Comments on Twitter indicate that people on both sides are confused about the official stance on the vaccine.
A Twitter user based in Germany noted that “you can’t blame people for confusion” after listing the twists and turns that characterized AstraZeneca’s vaccine timeline.
Another user, Aetera, based in Germany, noted that “everyone here is confused whether it is good or bad” while another UK Twitter user, Mike Carrivick, said the reverse of the rules of use around the vaccine was going on the “irony of irony”, but one with potentially serious consequences. He remarked, “No wonder so many are confused and lives in danger.”
London-based Kristen Covo was another Twitter user who expressed confusion over AstraZeneca’s safety data after being suspended in a handful of European countries and resuming use following recommendations from the EMA and WHO.
Regarding the question of giving the second dose of vaccine to younger people who have already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the German vaccine committee announced that it would issue guidelines on the matter by the end of April.
The ambivalent and changing attitudes of European countries towards the vaccine were made all the more confusing by an accompanying narrative (and major argument) about the delivery of the shot.
The EU has repeatedly accused the drug maker of failing to meet its delivery schedule, while various EU officials and heads of state and government have cast doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness, which in turn has made many EU citizens skeptical about vaccines.
A Brussels-based BBC reporter noted that it had been dubbed the “Aldi vaccine” after the cheap grocery store because people viewed the shot as a budget option. There have been other reports from people requesting Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna shots instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
As an English Twitter user named gazztrade asked on Wednesday, does the EU want “the AstraZeneca vaccine or not”?
To date, only 10% of the total European population has received a vaccine dose and 4% have completed a full vaccine series, according to WHO. The United Nations Health Department has described vaccine adoption in the region as “unacceptably slow”.