Find out which European countries have decided to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine
While some countries struggle to receive more vaccines, others wonder what to do with the doses they asked for but will no longer use, due to concerns about their safety. Several countries have restricted the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccines to younger age groups due to a very small risk of blood clots. The reactions of the governments and citizens of the countries of Europe to the very rare episodes of thrombosis related to the Oxford / AstraZeneca COVID vaccine have been very mixed.
Given these events, Denmark became the first country on the European continent to abandon vaccination against COVID with AstraZeneca. The Norwegian health institute then recommended that Oslo follow Copenhagen's example and stop using the vaccine. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom, which has relied on this vaccine to carry out its campaign, continued its use, despite the fact that its health regulator confirmed in early April that 19 of those inoculated had died from the rare cases of blood clots. Many countries decided to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in March, despite the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) backing it, stating that its benefits in the fight against COVID - which has killed more than 3 million people worldwide - far outweighs the risks.
In its assessment of thrombosis cases, the EMA did not identify a definitive cause for these very rare events, but said they have a possible relationship to the vaccine and asked that it be included as an extremely rare potential side effect. Since then, most of them have resumed use of the vaccine, in some cases limiting it to certain age groups. But the reports appear to have left their mark on some populations with citizens deciding not to get vaccinated. Before AstraZeneca injections were discontinued due to concerns about blood clots, in all European countries studied in a YouGov survey, except France, there were more people who considered the vaccine to be safe than unsafe.
However, this was no longer the case in March, as France, Germany, Spain and Italy showed that participants were more likely to view the vaccine as unsafe than safe.
Linda Bauld, Professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, affirms that the epidemiological situation of the two Scandinavian countries that have suspended the use of vaccines, Denmark and Norway, is not negligible so that they can pause their administration. "They are still in a pretty good position on the pandemic, so they are easing the restrictions," she said. "They don't have this big third wave (in recent months), but other parts of Europe have." These countries were also among the first to raise the alarm about the possible link between the rare symptoms and AstraZeneca vaccines. Norwegian scientists were the first to say there was a link between the rare cases and the vaccine, with three fatal cases. In Denmark, two recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine have suffered serious blood clots, one of which was fatal.
Although Sweden is an atypical case compared to its neighbors, both for not having suspended the use of vaccines and for having experienced a recent increase in reported cases of the virus - on April 18 there were 604 cases per million inhabitants, while Norway recorded 102 and Denmark 119-, YouGov found that the AstraZeneca vaccine is still considered safe by most people (43% vs. 34%). Danes are tied with 42% who view the vaccine as safe and the same number who view it as unsafe. In both cases, the AstraZeneca vaccine is considered safe by far fewer people than those of Pfizer and Moderna.
The UK drug regulatory body has urged people to continue using AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, even though the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there was a possible link to rare blood clots.
Since then, the UK has given those under 30 the choice of another vaccine.
Early reports of thrombus cases in European countries appear to have had little impact on people's attitudes towards vaccines in the UK, as most of those surveyed in late March by YouGov said they considered the vaccine to be safe (77%), which was just a 4% decline from February, and still on par with Pfizer's 79% safety rating.
Bauld said this can be attributed in part to the nationalism of the vaccine, as "people are very proud of it and see it as the British vaccine."
Furthermore, the media coverage in the UK was "really very balanced, unusually balanced, around this issue", which served to put things in perspective for the public.
France, Spain, Italy and Germany
Bauld identified France and Germany as two countries in which governments are "still very concerned about the deployment of their vaccines", adding that Italy was also "to a lesser extent." France, Spain, Italy and Germany have restricted the use of AstraZeneca to older age groups. In terms of public perception, France already exhibited high levels of skepticism about vaccines compared to its European neighbors, and "a story like this causes it to drop even further and public confidence to weaken," he said.
In February, 43% of respondents said they considered the AstraZeneca vaccine unsafe compared to 33% who said it was safe, and these numbers worsened to 61% unsafe and 23% safe at the end of March. "You have to remember that politicians are a mirror of what happens in the population," said Bauld.
"The confidence of the population is the confidence of politicians, because politicians respond to what the population wants and to the priorities of the population, because they are elected officials."
In Italy and Spain, most people previously considered the AstraZeneca vaccine to be safe (54% and 59% respectively), but since reports, those numbers have dropped to 36% and 38%.
A spokesman for Italy's Ministry of Vaccines said it is almost impossible to collect data at the national level in the country on how many people reject a vaccine for a specific reason, making it difficult to determine whether people refused to receive the vaccine.
But in the Calabria region of southwestern Italy, for example, the national media reported "many waivers" of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and only 36% of the vaccine doses were used.