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In the past few months, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been administered into the arms of millions of people here in the UK and around the world. This vaccine has been one of the few rays of hope in this winter of anxiety and loss. However, in the past few weeks, there have been some not-so-good news reports coming out of mainland Europe about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
In mid-march, more than a dozen European Union countries starting with Austria and including Germany, France, Italy, and Spain temporarily suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. This step was taken after a few cases of severe blood clots and a couple of deaths were reported in some mainland European countries including Italy, Austria, Denmark, and Norway.
At the time of this decision and in addition to many medical experts, the European Medical Agency (EMA), the top drug regulator for the EU community stated that vaccination drives should continue because the benefits of inoculation outweigh the current risks and that “there is currently no indication that vaccination causes these conditions”. In addition to this, the World Health Organization (WHO) concurred with the EMA’s position by saying that, “As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and stem severe disease from the virus.”
Furthermore, AstraZeneca Plc., the British-Swedish company that developed the vaccine in collaboration with the University of Oxford also had stressed that the vaccine was safe and there was no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots among recipients. This statement was made after a review of 17 million people in the U.K. and Europe found fewer than 40 cases of blood clots, which as a proportion is even lower than what one would expect to find in the general population.
The temporary suspension was later rescinded by most of the countries following a report by the European Medical Agency which reviewed data from over 20 million vaccine recipients in the 30-member European Economic Area and found just 7 cases of blood clots and 18 cases of a rare condition called CVST. On the basis of these numbers, the report stated that a causal link between the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the blood clots was not proven but is possible and deserves further analysis.
Even though the suspension was lifted, the damage was done in terms of public confidence. This is because this row led to large falls in public confidence in the vaccine across the EU. In France, 61% of the population believed that the AstraZeneca vaccine was unsafe, an increase of 18%. Similar decreases were seen in Italy and Spain. These numbers are in stark contrast to that of the UK where confidence in the vaccine remains quite high, with just 9% of the people surveyed believed it was unsafe.