More European countries halt the rollout of the Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine

Ed Silverman, Pharmalot Columnist and Senior Writer for STAT News, joins Worldwide Exchange to discuss the long-term impact of European countries pausing the rollout of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO:

The decision by many European countries to suspend the use of the University of Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus shot could have far-reaching consequences, according to analysts, with vaccine uptake and the wider immunization program already lagging in the region.

Sweden and Latvia on Tuesday became the latest countries to suspend the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine over blood clot concerns. The move follows Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Ireland, among other European nations, to have temporarily paused the use of the vaccine as a precaution while checks are made into whether there is a link between the shot and an increased risk of blood clots.

The World Health Organization, drug regulators and the vaccine maker itself have sought to downplay ongoing safety concerns, saying there is currently no evidence to suggest a link between the shot and an increased risk of developing blood clots, which are a common occurrence among the general population.

The WHO, in particular, has urged countries not to pause using the shot in their vaccination rollouts. It said its advisory committee on vaccine safety has been reviewing the available data and is in close contact with the EU’s drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency.

More expert guidance is expected to be announced shortly following safety reviews: the WHO’s safety committee will meet on Tuesday while the EMA is meeting on Thursday.

Reflecting on whether EU member states’ decisions to pause the use of the vaccine could lead to lower public trust in the shot, Emer Cooke, executive director of the EMA, told a press briefing on Tuesday that the agency was “worried that there may be an effect on the trust of the vaccines but our job is to make sure the products we authorize are safe.”

It’s not the first time that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has come under pressure with the drugmaker previously questioned over its trial methodology and data, the efficacy of the shot in the over-65s, and having had a well-publicized dispute with the EU over the delivery of supplies to the bloc.

However, health experts and political analysts are questioning whether much of Europe’s decision to pause the use of the AstraZeneca shot is misplaced and likely to damage vaccine confidence further, or could even cost lives at a time when a third wave of infections is being seen from Paris to Prague, and the EU’s rollout of the shots is already sluggish.

“At this stage, it is likely national regulators are acting conservatively and out of an abundance of caution, in the belief a risk-averse approach will help reassure the public and limit the impact on uptake going forward. But the prospect of a longer review or an outright ban cannot be ruled out,” Federico Santi, senior Europe analyst at Eurasia Group, said in a note Monday.

“Either way, the damage is done. Willingness to take the AstraZeneca vaccine had already been lower than the mRNA vaccines available in the EU due to lower headline efficacy numbers and the initial confusion over its suitability for over 65s,” he said.

Some wonder whether there is a political element behind the decision to pause the vaccine, given earlier disputes over it.

Several European countries initially decided to not recommend the vaccine to over-65s, saying there was insufficient evidence to show it was effective, before reversing that decision as more data became available showing it was highly effective at reducing the number of severe Covid infections, hospitalizations and deaths.
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