PARIS – The European Union is said to be getting stronger through crises. The bloc’s attempt at a coordinated vaccination program, less than a roller coaster, tested the theory and now the suspension of the AstraZeneca shots in many countries threatens to turn widespread disorder into a complete debacle.
“I feel we are being used as guinea pigs,” said Khady Ballo, 21, a law student in the southern French city of Montpellier. “I will not get the AstraZeneca vaccine even if it is re-approved.”
While it appears likely that the European Medicines Agency, the union’s largest 27-member drug regulator, will quickly pronounce the AstraZeneca vaccine safely, millions of Europeans have been shaken back and forth and will be more hesitant about vaccination.
“Before that, I was so pro-vaccinated that I would have immersed children in it,” said Maria Grazia Del Pero, 62, who works in tourism in Milan. But now, “I would not get AstraZeneca because it would be like playing Russian roulette.”
Providing vaccines for 450 million people of the EU would never be an easy task, especially since the union barely had a coordinated health policy before the pandemic. But the bureaucratic delay and confusion in obtaining vaccines at pharmaceutical companies, followed by slow authorization, followed by delivery problems, followed by the sudden panic over the AstraZeneca shot, caused European governments to falter in defense and Europeans.
In France, the government praised the AstraZeneca vaccine a few days ago for suspending it. The response to this confusion was swift, even as the government insisted that there was no established medical reason for fear. A poll by the Elabe Institute on Tuesday showed that only 20 percent of French people trust the AstraZeneca vaccine, with 58 percent skeptical and 22 percent undecided.
“I trust AstraZeneca, I trust the vaccines,” Ursula von der Leyen, the European Union’s top official, told a news conference in Brussels. But reassuring words cannot persuade Europeans to experience policy whipping.
In a clear attempt to shake up confidence, French Prime Minister Jean Castex told BFM TV he would get the AstraZeneca vaccine himself “as soon as the green light is given.” He has not talked about it before.
“The confidence of Italians is deeply jeopardized, not only against the AstraZeneca vaccine, but also against the authorities,” said Roberto Burioni, a leading Italian virologist. “These sudden and unexplained changes in decisions are causing concern everywhere.” Even an “all good” ruling by the European Medicines Agency, probably on Thursday, “will not be enough.”
Concern about the shot is based on a small number of recipients who have had blood clots or abnormal bleeding. But researchers and drug regulators say they have seen no evidence of an increase in such complications or a link to vaccination.
AstraZeneca said this week that a survey of more than 17 million people who received the vaccine found that they were actually less likely to develop dangerous blood clots than the general population.
European countries, led by France and Germany, are torn between a strong desire to prevent what they call ‘vaccination nationalism’, and the realization that the European Union was not fully prepared for an operation on this scale. If the integration of the health policy of the bloc was implemented quickly, with possible long-term benefits, lives would also be lost.
Britain’s face of continued vaccinations – more than 26 million doses have been given, more than three times the number in France – was particularly good, given the recent exit from the union. Some Europeans understandably ask why.
Confidence has long been a major issue in France, where skepticism about Covid-19 vaccines was widespread late last year. In December, less than half of the population said they were ready to be vaccinated.
According to a poll by Harris Interactive, the number rose to 64 percent earlier this month before the setback of AstraZeneca. Even then, however, confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine was lower, with 43 percent of the population, a number now halved.
The situation is hardly better in Germany, although the mortality rate due to the virus was lower than that of France. “By stopping the AstraZeneca, the image that plagued the German vaccination strategy from the beginning is maximized,” Ulrich Weigeldt, head of the German Association of General Practitioners, told the Media group Funke. “Vaccination is and remains a question of trust.”
Confidence in the vaccine remains quite high in Britain, where millions of people have received it, and even on the continent, many Europeans seem untouched by the fear of AstraZeneca. “I will definitely get the AstraZeneca vaccine if it is approved again,” said Corinne Taddei, 60, a karate instructor in Paris. According to her, the Covid vaccines are “the only solution to save us and get out of this pandemic.”
Maria Paraskevoula, a 52-year-old teacher in Athens, was also bowed down. ‘I’ll take any vaccine, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, I do not care. According to what I have heard, the chance of problems is minimal. There is always a risk, but is there not a greater risk of walking around waiting to become infected? ‘
Last week, when reports surfaced that two men in Sicily, an Italian naval officer and a police officer, had died shortly after taking the AstraZeneca shot, the Tuscany region website had 4,100 cancellations for the AstraZeneca vaccine inside. a day registered, about 12 percent of the people booked for the week ahead. Within days, however, the vacancies were filled by other residents.
The disorder comes at a difficult time with Europe in the face that Mr. Castex, the French prime minister, called “a kind of third wave” of new variants of the virus, although exhaustion and depression began, along with severe hardships. Europe’s eventual economic recovery from the pandemic will be much slower than the American one.
With the national mood and a presidential election next year, the French government is wavering between further blockades and proposals that restaurants could start by April 15 and light a curfew.
The goal of vaccinating 10 million people by at least a first shot by mid-April, compared to 5.6 million today, now seems ambitious, given the effects of the AstraZeneca panic. But the French authorities maintain that this can be done, even if the vaccine against AstraZeneca has to be withdrawn.
More than a year of the first closures in Europe, the end of the crisis does not seem near. “I was never a No-Vaxxer,” said Laura Cerchi, a primary school teacher on the outskirts of Florence. She had her first recording of AstraZeneca in early March. ‘But all this confusion made me wonder if I wanted to do the second shot or not. The mixed messages do not increase my confidence in vaccines. ”
In an interview, Clément Beaune, France’s junior minister for European affairs, defended European policy. “I do not believe that European weight is slowing down our vaccination process. Do we have problems in Europe? Yes. Would we – France, Germany – better solve it at national level to wage war to get doses? I do not believe so. ”
Reporting was contributed by Gaëlle Fournier, Aurelien Breeden and Constant Méheut in Paris, Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Emma Bubola in Milan and Gaia Pianigiani in Siena, Italy and Niki Kitsantonis in Athens.