PARIS (AP) – First, France abruptly stopped vaccines against AstraZeneca. Now the French prime minister wants to get one as soon as possible.
With the virus rebounding from Paris to Budapest and beyond, European governments that were quick to suspend the use of AstraZeneca vaccines after reports of blood clots are realizing the far-reaching impact of the measure. And suddenly they seem eager for any sign, or fig leaf, that will allow them to resume shooting.
That could come as early as Thursday, when the European Medicines Agency releases the initial results of its investigations into whether there is a connection between the vaccine and blood clots. So far, the EMA and the World Health Organization have said there is no evidence that the vaccine is the culprit.
But experts worry that the damage has already been done. The suspensions by Germany, France, Italy, Spain and others have fueled doubts about the often maligned AstraZeneca vaccine, and vaccination efforts in general, as the world struggles to defeat the pandemic..
“There are thousands of new cases in Germany, France, Italy, etc. every day. If you stop vaccination during this ongoing pandemic, you know people will die, ”Michael Head, senior researcher in global health at the University of Southampton, told The Associated Press.
While emphasizing the importance of investigating potentially dangerous side effects, he said, “It is entirely possible to investigate the signs without stopping the launch of the vaccine.”
Some countries adhere to AstraZeneca vaccines. India vowed on Wednesday to continue vaccines, hours before Brazil’s health minister celebrated the first doses of AstraZeneca bottled in the country.
New coronavirus cases grew 10% globally last week, driven by surges in Europe and the Americas, WHO reported Wednesday, urging continued vaccinations.
“The disease is turning the corner in the wrong direction and we must control it,” said Dr Michael Ryan, WHO chief of emergencies. “We are going to fall behind the virus again.”
Even before Thursday’s announcement by Europe’s drug watchdog, the president of the European Commission made it clear that the AstraZeneca vaccine will remain a pillar of the EU’s vaccine strategy.
“I trust AstraZeneca, I trust vaccines,” said Ursula von der Leyen.
Rather than address the vaccination suspensions that have divided the EU, von der Leyen focused on the pharmaceutical company’s supply problems and revived talks about export bans on EU-made vaccines..
“Unfortunately, AstraZeneca has produced underproduction and underdelivery, and this, of course, painfully slowed the vaccination campaign,” he told reporters. He said the EU still aims to vaccinate 70% of all adults by September.
But AstraZeneca shooting suspensions in a growing number of countries They have been another setback for the EU vaccination campaign, which has been plagued by shortages and other obstacles and lags far behind campaigns in Britain and the US.
Almost as soon as the president of France froze the vaccines on Monday, top French officials began to worry about the impact on public opinion in a country where many already viewed the AstraZeneca vaccine as second-class and where skepticism about the vaccine is large.
The government now expects to announce the resumption of vaccines as early as Thursday. The Paris region faces new lockdown measures this week as more contagious and damaging virus variants have pushed intensive care units beyond capacity and caused a resurgence of infections, despite a curfew at midnight. 6pm across the country and the long-term closure of restaurants and many businesses.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex, who at 55 and with no known underlying health problems is not yet eligible for a vaccine, said on national television Tuesday night that “it would be prudent for me to get vaccinated very quickly, as soon as it is suspended, I hope, raised “.
Castex said he wants to show his fellow citizens “that vaccination is the way out of this crisis.”
Italy follows a similar line. Health Minister Roberto Speranza says that European countries expect the EMA to deliver “the necessary clarifications and guarantees” on Thursday to be able to resume the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine “without hesitation.”
In Germany, where eight cases of blood clots are being investigated, officials defended the decision to suspend vaccines for further investigation, but appeared ready to resume them soon. Health Ministry spokesman Hanno Kautz said: “It is clear that the EMA’s decision is binding and of course we will also follow the EMA’s decision.”
Lithuania’s president criticized his health minister’s decision to suspend injections, saying it causes “enormous damage to the entire vaccination process.”
The impact has spread beyond Europe, and some people have rejected the AstraZeneca vaccine as unsatisfactory, even when it is the only one available.
Amós García, president of the Spanish Vaccination Association, said it will be difficult for governments to rebuild trust in the general coronavirus vaccination program, no matter what the EMA announces.
“The problem when a vaccine is questioned is not that it affects that vaccine, but that it affects the entire vaccination world,” he said.
“Possibly there has been an excess of zeal” among governments like Spain that suspended vaccines, he said. But he praised Europe’s vaccine surveillance systems for quickly identifying and investigating blood clot problems. Spain is examining three such cases.
The Spanish Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, defended the decision to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying that it is necessary to “continue to build trust” in efforts to combat COVID-19.
The EMA says that thousands of people across the EU develop blood clots each year for a variety of reasons and that there were no reports of an increase in clotting incidents in clinical studies of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The company says there have been 37 reports of blood clots among the more than 17 million people who have received the vaccine in the EU and Britain.
Cook reported from Brussels. Contributed by Maria Cheng in London, Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Colleen Barry in Milan and Frank Jordans in Berlin.
Follow AP pandemic coverage at: