Astrazeneca suspensions: Europe's vaccination campaign at risk?

Sweden has joined the growing list of EU countries that have temporarily suspended Astrazeneca vaccinations. The European Medicines Agency is due to announce on Thursday whether its findings indicate that there is a connection between the jab and rare cases of cerebral blood clots. Europe's press is at odds over whether suspending the jabs makes sense - and points to a dilemma.

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Contrepoints (FR) /

This is how you feed conspiracy theories

Stopping the vaccinations is grist to the mill of vaccine critics, Contrepoints worries:

“The suspension is a response on the part of governments to those who have panicked most in the health crisis - and are often on the fringe of public opinion. It's a veritable godsend for those who oppose vaccination, conspiracy theorists and, more prosaically, radical sceptics. Allying with anti-vaxxers to ban the vaccine, even if only temporarily, has only one effect: complicating the vaccination campaign and giving the state an additional reason to limit people's freedom in the name of fighting the virus. After this political error, it will be difficult to convince people to volunteer for the jab - and who knows if governments won't then turn their recommendation into an obligation.”

Público (PT) /

The pill has been causing thromboses for decades

Commenting in Público, the physician Vânia Mesquita Machado is horrified:

“It's one thing to be careful: to take a batch out of circulation, to weigh up the side effects and their proportions against the incidence in the population. And thromboembolic phenomena also occur in not insignificant numbers with oral contraceptives, which millions of women take every day, for example, yet no one is very concerned about it. ... Another thing is the tsunami of fear, which will also have repercussions, increasing distrust once more, not only regarding this vaccine but anti-Covid vaccines in general. It unites anti-vaccine movements and corona deniers, who use this withdrawal to push their conspiracy theories.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Warsaw should also hit the brakes

By contrast Rzeczpospolita says it would be counterproductive not to suspend vaccination with Astrazeneca:

“Health Minister Adam Niedzielski has announced that Poland will not stop vaccinating with Astrazeneca because the benefits outweigh the risks. And that's right from the perspective of the overall statistics, but not from that of the individual. Here things may look very different. The Polish government should seriously consider taking a different course. Not suspending vaccinations with Astrazeneca even for a short time - at least until the doubts are resolved - could be counterproductive: it could undermine confidence in the entire vaccination campaign.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Astrazeneca remains indispensable

Even in the long term the EU countries won't be able to switch to other vaccines, says The Daily Telegraph:

“If EU states don't want to vaccinate with Astrazeneca, what alternative do they have? Pfizer's factories are not producing enough shots for everyone in Europe, and the EU is going to face an uphill struggle in attracting other manufacturers to bring their operations to the bloc: who would want to invest in an EU-based plant knowing that exports from that plant could be stopped by the EU at whim. Between them, the EU and its member states risk turning their territory into a vaccine desert. The result will be many more deaths among Europeans, from blood clots included, which are, after all, a symptom of Covid 19.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

A moral dilemma

Two fundamentally different views clash in the dispute over Astrazeneca, explains Corriere della Sera:

“'The Englishman likes to imagine himself at sea, the German in a forest', wrote Elias Canetti. ... The two European polarities are before our eyes in these hours. Britain has adopted a utilitarian approach to vaccines based on cost-benefit calculations; Germany has suspended Astrazeneca's distribution on the basis of the precautionary principle. In the Anglo-Saxon world, a certain behaviour is usually allowed until it is demonstrated to be harmful; on the continent, it is prohibited until it is demonstrated to not be harmful. Ethically, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to choose the right path when human life is at stake.”

Frankfurter Rundschau (DE) /

Risks weigh particularly heavily with vaccines

The Frankfurter Rundschau heartily approves of the suspension:

“Safety must come first. This is true for all medicines, and even more so for vaccines that are injected into healthy people to prevent a disease. The risk-benefit analysis is therefore quite different for a vaccination than for therapeutical measures. ... The slightest suspicion that the vaccine could cause massive side effects justifies stopping its use. Any hint of a doubt that such a connection exists must be ruled out before the vaccine is injected into millions more.”

The Irish Independent (IE) /

Don't give the opponents any ammunition

The Irish Independent also thinks suspending the vaccine is a wise move:

“Some opponents of vaccination will be happy to seize upon this occurrence to further their case in undermining the national campaign. But the majority of people will see this precautionary action as a further indication that the health authorities are applying the greatest of care. If anything, it should enhance people's faith in the vaccination campaign and its potential to release us from Covid restrictions sooner rather than later. ... The precautionary principle is the wisest option. In suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine, the authorities are performing their duty to defend human health.”

Kurier (AT) /

The trust is gone

The damage to the company's image is irreparable, Kurier believes:

“The latest incidents linked to the Astrazeneca vaccine do not indicate that it is unsafe - or even fatal. ... Nevertheless the authorities in many European countries have hit the stop button anyway. ... Probably also for reasons of liability, but also because there was no ignoring the people's aversion to the vaccine after the deaths were splashed across the headlines. ... The vaccine is becoming a non-seller and has a huge image problem. ... Because even if the authorities give the green light again in a few days' time, many will prefer to wait a few more weeks for a different vaccine, or put up with another six weeks of lockdown rather than running a risk.”

Contributors (RO) /

Wasting valuable time

The director of the Bucharest Science Festival, Alexandru Toma Pătraşcu, explains why suspending vaccination is fatal using the example of Romania:

“We currently have 5,000 new infections every day. With a population of around 20 million people, that means 70,000 cases in two weeks. If you postpone vaccinating a million people for two weeks, you postpone their protection against the disease for two weeks! In that time window, 3,500 of them will become ill, 15 to 20 of them will die, and many others will have long-term consequences (affecting their lungs, heart, etc.). If you extrapolate this number to the whole of Europe, you can get an idea of how big the problem is.”

Új Szó (SK) /

Strategy behind the bad image

Új Szó criticises the role of the media and blames Russia for the Astrazeneca vaccine's negative image:

“Unfortunately, the media are engaging in sensationalism. ... Whatever else you may say, it's going too far to report every single case [of side effects], especially if it has not yet been proven that the vaccination has actually caused fatalities. ... Many already warned in the run-up to the vaccination campaign that the Astrazeneca vaccine in particular would come under pressure because the basis for its development is the same as that of the Russian Sputnik vaccine, and it is therefore considered to be the latter's biggest competitor. The defamation of the Astrazeneca vaccine is part of Russia's hybrid warfare in the countries of the EU.”

Digi 24 (RO) /

All or nothing

Commenting in Digi 24, journalist Cristian Tudor Popescu says the Romanian government's reaction of putting one batch on hold is pointless:

“How is this batch different from the rest of Astrazeneca's batches? ... I suspect that the manufacturing, certification, procedures and protocols that batch ABV 2856 went through were no different from the those the others went through. ... Either you suspend all vaccination with the vaccine or you don't suspend it at all. ... People have died after taking this batch, but no one has proven that people could not have died after taking any other batch with which five million people were vaccinated. ... If there is a problem with Astrazeneca, then there is a high probability that it will also occur with other batches.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

As safe as any other vaccine

One look at Britain should reassure sceptics, La Repubblica points out:

“The lesson from England is that the Oxford vaccine is as safe as any other currently in circulation. ... Of the more than 24 million people in the UK who have already received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine (more than a third of the total population), around half have received Astrazeneca and half have received the Pfizer vaccine. And the results seem almost identical so far. Thanks to this rapid mass vaccination campaign and the lockdown that began before Christmas, the country has seen a sharp drop in infections and deaths.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Maximum transparency now required

Now only a precise evaluation of the number of cases can help, writes virologist Antonella Viola in La Stampa:

“The manufacturer's statement that the vaccine is generally well tolerated cannot be considered sufficient. Similarly, the EMA cannot say with certainty that thromboembolic events have nothing to do with the vaccine without studying the results of every autopsy. ... For that reason there are now two hypotheses. One: there is no connection between the deaths and vaccination, just a coincidence in time. Two: there is a problem with a certain batch due to contamination or production errors. And that is what we need to find out over the next few days with the help of clinical analysis. But to limit the normal response of dismay and not undermine the vaccination campaign, we need maximum transparency.”

Webcafé (BG) /

Wavering course without fact checks

Webcafé fears the suspension will bring vaccine deniers back on the scene:

“Scepticism about vaccines had just started to wane in view of reports of thousands of people vaccinated, but now it will erupt with renewed force. ... It's hard to say which is worse - the Covid statistics, which are getting grimmer by the day, or the fact that a year after the start of this nightmare our country is still floundering, making decisions that are not based on scientific facts.”