France, Italy Hint at AstraZeneca U-Turn With Focus on Regulator
(Bloomberg) -- European Union governments sought to put another chaotic vaccine episode behind them as the bloc’s drug regulator signaled AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid shot was safe and France and Italy hinted that they were ready to lift suspensions.
In a sign that the latest crisis could soon start to calm, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and French President Emmanuel Macron said after talks Tuesday that they could resume using the Astra vaccine again if the European Medicines Agency advises that it’s safe.
While the EMA won’t issue a definitive new assessment until Thursday, Draghi said its initial guidance is encouraging. The EMA has repeatedly said the benefits of the shot outweigh risks, pushing back against governments that suspended it amid reports of blood clots in some recipients.
The health scare has put another dent in Europe’s underwhelming inoculation campaign, and led to crisis meetings and worries about deeper damage to the rollout. The EMA warned it could undermine trust in vaccines and make people more hesitant about taking them. With cases of the virus on the rise in parts of Europe, a slowdown in inoculations could hamper the escape from lockdowns, further damaging economies.
“We are worried that there may be an effect on the trust in the vaccines,” EMA executive director Emer Cooke said at a hastily convened press conference on Tuesday, adding that analysis of the Astra shots was continuing.
EU countries were warned on Tuesday that the slow pace of vaccinations, as well as moves to block the use of some doses, could increase the likelihood of prolonged restrictions on activity.
The bloc’s health chief, Stella Kyriakides, told a private call of the EU’s 27 national ministers that out of the 70 million doses delivered to member states so far, only 51 million have been administered, according to people familiar with the discussion.
Speaking to reporters after the call, she described trust in vaccines as “very important” and pressed for the rollout to step up a gear.
“This is very important for citizens to understand, that on issues linked to safety, vigilance, we follow the scientific advice of EMA,” she said. “It’s extremely important that citizens feel they have trust in the vaccines, so we reduce vaccine hesitancy as much as possible.”
Astra shares to closed up 3.6% in London, their biggest one-day gain in more than four months.
The European Commission, which is in charge of vaccine procurement, has committed to immunizing 70% of adults by the end of September, but the performance of most EU governments in administering the limited number of shots available doesn’t bode well for when supplies are expected to increase in the coming months.
The U.S. has so far administered three times as many doses as the EU when adjusted for population.
That poor performance has inflamed tensions within the bloc itself, with some governments saying they are unhappy with how shots are being shared.
On Tuesday, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for a “correction mechanism” of vaccine distribution in the EU to avoid political tensions. Speaking in Vienna alongside the prime ministers of the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Slovenia, he declined to be drawn on how such a mechanism should work, except saying that the guiding principle should be that every member state has the same access to vaccine doses at the same time.
Kurz said the leaders were already in talks with Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen about their proposal.
Despite the vaccination setbacks, the Commission on Wednesday will unveil its strategy to gradually lift coronavirus lockdowns. The coordinated easing will be based on a tier system reflecting the situation in each state, according to a draft of the proposals seen by Bloomberg.
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