EU Resets Vaccine Drive After Chaos That May Undermine Trust
(Bloomberg) -- Europe’s efforts to speed up its Covid-19 vaccination campaign now face the hurdle of damage to public trust after a chaotic week of vaccine suspensions, health scares and export-ban threats.
Countries across the European Union, including Germany, France and Spain, are resuming using AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine after temporarily suspending it to investigate a possible blood-clot issue. But while the European Medicines Agency has cleared the shot for use, worries among citizens may linger.
Leaders, aware of the hit to confidence, are getting their own jabs to show it’s safe, with French Prime Minister Jean Castex taking his on Friday. Public confidence is crucial for the EU, which is trying to get a grip on a vaccine drive that’s lagging the U.S. and the U.K. The rising pace of coronavirus cases and a renewed four-week lockdown announced Thursday for parts of France underscore the urgency of the threat.
In Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday the country is in the “third wave of the pandemic.” Cases there are increasing by the most in two months, close to a level that could trigger new restrictions.
The U.K. didn’t suspend the Astra vaccine, but is also working to prevent any damage to its campaign. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was treated for Covid last year, will get vaccinated, and has said it will “certainly” be the Astra shot.
In Italy, before the formal suspension, initial reports of fatalities of inoculated people had an immediate fallout. One immunization center in the small town of Villorba in the northern Veneto region said people stopped turning up for appointments.
EU officials are trying to look ahead to the second quarter, when deliveries of vaccines are expected to pick up rapidly. The bloc has approved four shots for use.
“You can see that the political environment is getting a bit jittery, very nervous about making progress,” Maria Demertzis, deputy director at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels, said on Bloomberg Television. “I don’t think that will have a lasting effect. Within a month, we are going to see an acceleration of vaccination strategies in the EU and by then, things will calm down a little bit.”
Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spahn will hold talks with regional leaders later on Friday as they try to speed the country’s sluggish vaccination drive.
The EU drug regulator’s announcement capped a tumultuous few days that featured an agonizing back-and-forth over vaccine safety. But while the EMA cleared the shot, it said it couldn’t entirely rule out a link with some rare blood-clotting cases.
The EMA’s caveat on the clotting issue could prolong uncertainty that has surrounded the AstraZeneca since the trial phase, when a dosing mistake and different intervals between the two shots created confusion. Sweden, Denmark and Norway are keeping suspensions in place pending national reviews.
On Thursday, the agency’s executive director, Emer Cooke, sought to dispel lingering doubts, highlighting the bigger threat from the virus.
“This pandemic is costing lives,” she said. “We have vaccines that are safe and effective, that can help prevent death and hospitalization. We need to use those vaccines.”
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