LONDON — There are signs that Europe’s diverging — and changing — usage rules when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford are sowing further confusion and mistrust among citizens.
Not only have EU citizens had to contend with a barrage of negative sentiment toward the vaccine, even from top officials themselves, but they’ve also seen the shot suspended by more than a dozen European countries following concerns over a small number of reports of blood clots.
The European Medicines Agency and World Health Organization, following safety reviews of the data, recommended continued use of the shot, saying its benefits outweighed possible risks. But those fears have not gone away, with confusion now reigning over which age group should, and can, take the vaccine.
On Tuesday, Germany suspended use of the AstraZeneca shot in 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 had initially stopped vaccinating women under 55 with AstraZeneca’s shot.
Germany had initially only permitted the vaccine to be used in the under-65s, saying there was not enough data to show it was safe and effective for the elderly, although it reversed that decision in early March.
Meanwhile, Spain decided on Wednesday to extend the use of the vaccine to essential workers over 65 years old. The vaccine had until then been restricted to the 55-to-65 age group, but will now be made available to priority groups in that age group such as health workers, police officers or teachers.
In France, the AstraZeneca vaccine was also initially not permitted for the over-65s, with French President Emmanuel Macron, now criticized for his armchair epidemiology by many French commentators, saying erroneously that the vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” for the over-65s.
France later reversed that stance as more clinical trial data emerged, saying that the vaccine would be allowed for people affected by co-morbidities, including those aged between 65 and 74.
Confused yet? You’re not alone. Comments on Twitter show that people on both sides are confused over official stances toward the vaccine.
One Twitter user based in Germany noted that “you can’t blame people for being confused” after he listed the twists and turns that have characterized the timeline of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
Another user, Aetera, based in Germany noted that “everyone here is confused whether it is good or bad” while another British Twitter user, Mike Carrivick, said the reversal of usage rules around the vaccine was the “irony of ironies” but one with a potentially serious consequence. He noted: “No wonder many are confused and lives put at risk.”
London-based Kristen Covo was another Twitter user expressing her confusion over AstraZeneca’s safety credentials following its suspension in a handful of European countries, and then the resumption of its use following the EMA and WHO’s advice.
With regard to the question of administering the second vaccine dose to younger people who have already received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Germany’s vaccine committee said it would issue guidance on the matter by the end of April.
The ambivalent, and changing, stance taken by European countries toward the vaccine has been made all the more confusing by an accompanying narrative (and big dispute) over supplies of the shot.
The EU has repeatedly lambasted the drugmaker for not living up to its supply delivery schedule while at the same time, various EU officials and leaders have provoked doubts on the vaccine’s efficacy, which in turn has prompted vaccine skepticism among many EU citizens.
One BBC reporter based in Brussels noted that it had been labeled the “Aldi vaccine,” after the low-cost grocery store, because people saw the shot as the budget option. There are other reports of people requesting the Pfizer–BioNTech or Moderna shots instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
As one English Twitter user called gazztrade questioned on Wednesday, does the EU “want the AstraZeneca vaccine or not?”