Series of unfortunate events
Like the WHO before it, the European Medicines Agency yesterday asserted that there is no discernable indication that the AstraZeneca vaccine increases the risk of blood clots. While countries such as the UK and India have continued using the AstraZeneca shot, several European countries suspended the use of the vaccine after early signs that there might be a correlation.
In general, side-effects are an expected part of vaccines and it is the job of health agencies to keep an eye out for the more serious side-effects. That said, there are serious consequences to suddenly suspending the use of a vaccine, particularly one that is as widely used as the AstraZeneca vaccine. Europe, in particular, cannot afford the delay as it is already facing a vaccine campaign that is seriously lagging behind expectations. While France and Germany have elected to continue with their vaccination campaign after reassurance from the European drug regulator, the damage may have been done to some extent. Europe, as it turns out, has a pretty serious case of vaccine scepticism
Commentators say that both far-right and far-left leaning politics in Europe are mixed with the anti-establishment flavour and a few of their voices are, by and large, prevailing over the rest. For the most part, the vaccine concerns of Europeans are similar to those found anywhere else. The European vaccine sceptics are afraid the vaccines were made too early or authorised with too little procedure. They are afraid of the side-effects or at an extreme, that many hungry corporations have some other hidden ways of exploiting them via the vaccine. What makes this vaccine scepticism worse is that it has been left largely unchecked. In France, surveys have revealed that just 40 per cent of those surveyed are certain about getting vaccinated. Such matters are not helped by the fact that the European leaders have given many knee-jerk reactions to the vaccines such as the time when French President Macron made the unsubstantiated claim that the AstraZeneca jab was 'quasi-ineffective' for use in older people. Some German health experts agreed. Now admittedly, the AstraZeneca vaccine has had some bad press, particularly in Europe where there were a few cases of medical staff showing more serious side-effects after being administered the vaccine. While the symptoms soon cleared up, the reputation stuck. This is a problem because, as mentioned above, the AstraZeneca vaccine is, generally speaking, the most widely available vaccine in the world with many countries across the world relying on it. Even Europe, in its current circumstances, does not have a wealth of options when it comes to vaccines. Europe is currently running low on vaccines and orders for more, such as the one for the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine that is not going to be delivered any time soon. At such a time, many of the European nations are turning to other sources such as the Russian Sputnik vaccine, a vaccine candidate that the EU had previously dismissed due to a lack of credible testing data. But even Russia cannot promise early delivery because it has its own obligations towards several nations that are first on the queue.
Europe, it seems, is paying the price for its excessive dithering and caution. Now, it is important once again at closing to note that the failure of the European vaccination campaign as it stands now is not an indication that making haste is a good idea during an international health crisis. There are plenty of examples, historically speaking, of why rushing a vaccine campaign without due diligence can turn out quite bad. What's unfortunate for the EU is that the early delays as it deliberated and took precautions were compounded by several other factors that have now completely derailed the timing set by EU leaders to reopen the countries by summer this year.
Moreover, the EU is now caught in a rather ugly affair where it is being accused of blatant vaccine nationalism as it tries to cut lines for vaccine deliveries by threatening to hold up exports from its soil. All in all, not a good look for the European experiment.