After months of pushing for a vaccine, why are countries halting the distribution of one of the major vaccines?
The AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, also known as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine or AZD1222, was approved by the European Medicines Agency for distribution in January. The first dose was shown to be 76% effective for three months, advancing to 82% efficacy after the second dose.
But recently, countries throughout the world — from just a handful to nearly 19 (numbers differ wildly among a variety of media sources) — have halted the AstraZeneca vaccine following questionable reports of bureaucratic issues with its distribution and severe side effects and deaths (which are reportedly not linked to the vaccine). The global medical community’s response has been to attempt to tamp down distrust and increasing concerns over its safety.
The AstraZeneca Vaccine
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine was developed in collaboration between AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, and Oxford University’s Jenner Institute. During clinical trials, when two doses were given 12 weeks apart, the vaccine was found to have an 82.4% efficacy rate. Britain was the first country to approve its use in December.
AstraZeneca faced criticism for not disclosing or for omitting certain points during clinical trials. The vaccine was still approved even after their late admission that a few patients had accidentally not received a full dose of the vaccine which interfered with trial results. Clinical trials were also paused for six days in September 2020, following a participant’s development of neurological complications. The pause in trials wasn't publicly announced by the company until later.
AstraZeneca faced criticism for not disclosing or for omitting certain points during clinical trials.
The vaccine itself is a modified version (one injected with proteins) of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which utilize a single strand of RNA, this vaccine instead uses a double strand of DNA. AstraZeneca is projected to produce two billion doses of the vaccine this year.
Why Countries Are Halting Rollout
Countries are halting AstraZeneca distribution due to concerns over its possible associations with blood clots and other side effects.
An Austrian man died of a pulmonary embolism 10 days after being vaccinated. In Denmark, another death of complications from blood clots was also reported. In Norway, other blood clotting incidents were reported following the patients’ vaccination. In Italy, prosecutors announced they intended to file manslaughter charges after a 57-year-old music teacher died just hours after getting the vaccine.
Yet the global medical community and health bureaucracies, both in Europe and in the U.S., continue to assure citizens that there’s no apparent connection between the two. The U.S. gave AstraZeneca up to $1.2 billion in assistance with vaccine research and development.
Countries are halting AstraZeneca distribution over its possible associations with blood clots.
As of Tuesday, 18 European countries have stopped administering shots, following a reportedly “small amount” of cases of blood clots in vaccine patients. These include the Netherlands, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Sweden, Norway, Latvia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Ireland, Iceland, and Austria. Outside of Europe, Indonesia, Congo, Thailand, South Africa, and Venezuela have also stopped administering AstraZeneca. While some countries have simply placed a two-week pause on administration, countries like Austria and Italy announced that as part of their precautionary measures they’ve stopped using specific batches of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has urged EU countries to continue to administer shots, without any reassurance that they will look into why they’re being halted in the first place. The EU has a goal of vaccinating 70% of its adult population by the end of the summer — a goal which this obstacle obviously severely hinders. A European health regulator emphasized that despite hospitalizations and complications, the vaccine’s “benefits outweigh the risks.”
Global Officials View This as a Setback
Director of the European Medicines Agency Emer Cooke said the following on the matter: “When you vaccinate millions of people, it’s inevitable that you have rare or serious incidences of illnesses that occur after vaccination.” In an attempt to not halt vaccine rollout, other health officials have reassured the public that incidents like these happening after vaccination are often, to quote The Washington Post, “coincidental.”
The medical community has given little assurance that these side effects will be investigated and transparently discussed.
Other media outlets and headlines are less ambiguous about the overwhelming general consensus on these decisions. Certain reported side effects of the vaccine are “ridiculous.” Europe is going “too far” in pausing vaccine administration. Published reports on the exact number of countries that have paused AstraZeneca distribution continue to vary.
While health officials are quick to address public concern over such close proximity in incidents (correlation doesn't equal causation), a quick glance at these headlines shows more of an irritated tone over vaccination being halted rather than one of patience and understanding.
It should be noted that this story will continue to develop as countries decide to reinstate administration, or as more countries decide to pause distribution. Little assurance has been given by the medical community that the reasons motivating these decisions will be investigated and transparently discussed.
One thing that needs no clarification is the media’s clear agenda on this and their attempts to downplay the number of countries pausing rollout, in addition to the possible serious side effects, which apparently should be written off as no big issue. But for the patients and families affected by these complications, whether they’re due to the vaccine or not, it is a big issue.
For whatever reason, the conversation on the vaccine and personal choice has similarly followed that of mask mandates and policies and become increasingly politicized. Now, as is the norm for any attempt to question or investigate these narratives, distrust and discomfort are being minimized and dismissed as the concern of conspiracy theorists, anti-vax, or anti-science groups or individuals.
Countries leading the way in pausing distribution are being branded as dangerous and thoughtless, but the real carelessness lies in the attempts to admonish or shame questions, especially ones trying to establish what the possible side effects of this vaccine could be.
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