Ryan Sprules takes a look at the misinformation surrounding the AstraZeneca vaccine, and how other European countries are handling the roll-out.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has come under scrutiny once again, further adding to a growing list of controversies. Previous discussions have involved the vaccine’s potency against already developing strains in comparison to its vaccine counterparts and claims of a shortfall for the EU’s supply targets within the production process. Any other newsworthy incidents would be sure to be less than desirable for the overall vaccine drive.
Reports hit the headlines that Denmark had paused the vaccine to probe potential cases of blood clots caused. This then led to a domino effect as Norway and Iceland also suspended their AstraZeneca rollout, only to be followed further by Germany, France, and most of Europe. Health experts were left baffled in the midst of such a momentous decision of something that could be considered as so minor. Not even a show of confidence by both WHO and EMA in favour of the vaccine’s continued administration was enough to stop such a disastrous collective choice.
“The benefits of paracetamol and by extension the AstraZeneca jab serve a key purpose and achieve it, with the least risk to the subject body as possible.”
It takes into consideration on how the importance of side effects are judged. The contraceptive pill, for example, has a far higher chance of blood clots while the chance still being relatively low; four to sixteen in a group of 10,000 in comparison to the 30 cases in over 10 million vaccinations. Suffice to say, that even with this knowledge in mind, one could not begin to imagine a possibility where this medicine is suspended at all. It serves a crucial purpose and the benefits massively overshadow any risk involved. Professor Jonathan Van-Tam also followed along this line of thinking in a recent government briefing, as he listed the various rare side effects of the common pain relief Paracetamol. “Mouth sores, fever, difficulty breathing, more prone to bleeding” and yet it has served as a storeroom cupboard staple. The main point being in his overall tone is that medicines will have risks and benefits. However, in most cases, the benefits of paracetamol and by extension the AstraZeneca jab serve a key purpose and achieve it, with the least risk to the subject body as possible. So why in such an important effort has there been stalling in the midst of a third wave in Europe?
One may look to the misinformation concerning vaccines in general and the apprehension of those who can take it. Germany for example has already been dealing with a slow uptake of the jab in part to unpopularity from medical staff who saw it as insufficient to its peers, already stemming from misled comments about the vaccine’s effectiveness in the elderly. It seems that wild conspiracy theories of implantable microchips have been diluted into more believable false rumour that can seemingly do just as much damage to such an effort. The novelty of Coronavirus and the ensuing vaccines is a rife breeding ground for falsehood, as data is still pouring through in order to cement the truths and benefits concerning those vaccines. It accentuates what is at stake, as public trust of the brand-new vaccines rather than common shelf medicine needs to be fought in the age of fake news.
Another factor maybe the so called ‘vaccine nationalism’ that has started to rear its head in many a debate. The vaccines and their circumstances are involved in a political battleground concerning information and supply. It is no secret of the UK’s already tense relationship with the EU after Brexit, and that some Britons have colloquially labelled it as the ‘English vaccine’. Dilemmas such as European countries initially not using it on the elderly, the current clot fiasco and potential supply issues on the horizon with warnings of European vaccine exports being withheld, seems to stage competition rather than collaboration in face of one of the greatest crises in our age. Debates still rage on the political implications as Klaus Cichutek, head of the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Germany concluded that the precautionary decision was “purely scientific” whereas Nicola Magrini, Director of AIFA argues that “the choice is a political one” in the refusal to carry out their own checks for the clots. If anything, the constant interlock between scientific advice and political decision seems to be as significant as ever.
Since then, the EU’s leading states have agreed to resume their roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine as culminated evidence has fully confirmed that “the jab was ‘not associated’ with a higher risk of clots”. However, it is to be seen if the damage has already been done in terms of confidence or whether this much needed booster shot of reassurance will prove to be enough. It remains to be seen but as France continues to defy EU suggestion in not administering it to over-55s and the EU supply fiasco reaching a boiling point, the bright future promised may seem slightly overcast.