The approval of the European Medicines Agency for the AstraZeneca vaccine, awarded in late January, did little or nothing to increase confidence in this medicine. Proof of this is the fact that four out of five doses distributed by European countries have not yet been used, according to an investigation by the newspaper The Guardian this week. But why has the AstraZeneca vaccine raised so many doubts?
First, there is the notion that the drug, developed by AstraZeneca in collaboration with the University of Oxford, is less effective than the Pfizer / BioNTech vaccine. This factor is compounded by doubts about the inoculation of people over 65 years of age, caused by the lack of data on vaccination in this age group. This lack of information has led several countries – a group that includes Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Austria, Sweden, Italy and the Netherlands – to recommend that the population over 65 receive the Pfizer vaccine, the only alternative in this country. time.
Germany is one of the countries where this feeling of distrust is most palpable. Almost a month after the vaccine arrived, more than a million doses are still stored in warehouses, waiting for people to be available to be vaccinated. How do you write the The New York Times, only 270,986 doses of a 1.45 million shipment were administered in Germany, according to data collected by the Robert Koch Institute, a German health authority.
At a time when the aim is to vaccinate as many people as possible in the shortest possible time, the German government is trying to raise awareness among the population of the need to take advantage of the available doses. “Personally, I have little sympathy for the reluctance to use one vaccine at the expense of the other,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a video conference.
Steinmeier recalled in his criticism that this is “a problem of the first world”, not of “those who are still waiting for the first vaccination and of people in countries that have no hope of receiving a single dose this year.”
Germany amends recommendation
It becomes more difficult to change perceptions about the vaccine when it is recommended that the most influential person in the country, Chancellor Angela Merkel, not be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca drug, for exceeding the age limit – Merkel is 66 years old. But that could change soon.
This Saturday, the head of the Permanent Commission for Vaccination in Germany, Thomas Mertens, said that the organism will change the recommendation that limited the use of the vaccine. In an interview with the German television channel ZDF cited by Lusa, Mertens denies that the vaccine has ever been called into question. “We never criticized the vaccine, we only criticized the fact that there is not enough data on its effectiveness in people over 65 years old. The vaccine is good and the new data now allows us to increase its value ”, said the official.
Let us return to the first concern: effectiveness. If we look at the results of clinical trials, it is possible to see a difference between the two vaccines that have already received European approval. While that of Pfizer can reach an efficiency of 95%, the results of AstraZeneca point to an efficiency between 62% and 90%, depending on the dosage regime used.
But the truth is that in a study that analyzed data from 5.4 million Scottish inhabitants inoculated with doses of both vaccines, AstraZeneca’s showed a 94% effectiveness in reducing cases of serious infection – which require hospitalization. A higher value than the Pfizer vaccine, which had an 85% success rate.
Something that Angela Merkel was keen to remember, in one of the many calls addressed to the German people to speed up the rate of vaccination. “All the authorities tell us that this vaccine is safe,” said the chancellor, in an interview with the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine.
Macron doubted the effectiveness
This distrust is not exclusive to Germany. In France too, policymakers try to get AstraZeneca doses to priority groups. But in France, it was the President himself who called into question the vaccine’s effectiveness in the older population. Emmanuel Macron, in early January, said that the AstraZeneca drug was “practically ineffective” in people over 65. British Health Minister Matt Hancock was more restrained, recommending that people should “listen to scientists”.
But the study in Scotland, which showed the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing the most serious cases, led the French vaccination plan coordinator, Alain Fischer, to show an opinion different from that of the President. “If these results are confirmed, this is excellent news, because they suggest that the vaccine may be recommended for people aged between 65 and 74 years old,” he said, quoted by Politico.
This Thursday, it was the French President himself who said that he would get the AstraZeneca vaccine, should that opportunity arise. “In view of the most recent scientific studies, the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been proven. My turn [de ser vacinado] it will arrive, but I have time. If this is the vaccine offered to me, I will accept it, of course, ”said Macron.
As in Germany, it is now awaited to know whether the drug can be administered to people over 65 who belong to the priority groups, something that would potentially speed up vaccination plans.