Vaccine Politics & Power in a Confused Europe as More Nations Stop AstraZeneca Vaccine Use for Now

Turmoil associated with the most recent COVID-19 pandemic spike in Europe ensues as a number of countries have clamped down on the AstraZeneca vaccine due to reports of severe adverse events associated with the vaccine first developed in the United Kingdom. TrialSite reported that in a region in Austria, at least one vaccine batch was put on hold due to reported adverse events involving blood clotting. Then Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Ireland, as well as Estonia, Lithuania and Luxembourg ceased, at least temporarily, vaccine administration associated with the AstraZeneca product due to fears associated with severe blood clots. In Germany, the vaccine isn’t administered to people 65 and above, and even politicians, such as Angela Merkel, have mentioned at least in passing the limitations of the UK-based firm’s vaccine product. In the meantimem several European countries, mostly from Eastern Europe jointly authored a letter to the European Commission and the European Council declaring that authorized vaccines designated for the bloc aren’t distributed fairly there. In a piece of good newsm Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine was recommended by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Compounding problems, now AstraZeneca reports they will cut back production. Overall, Europe falls well behind Israel, the UAE, the UK, Chile and America in vaccinations administered per 100 people based one reports from Our World in Data

The number of countries on the list stopping, at least temporarily, administration of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine due to reports of severe adverse events including blood clotting continues to grow. While not one health authority has absolutely proven the link between the incidents and the vaccine product, a growing number of these countries are not taking chances, taking a cautious approach despite the fact that the third wave of the pandemic intensifies there.

Equitable Distribution

Six countries came together, including Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Latvia and Croatia, and recently sent a joint letter to the European Commission and the European Council to discuss heightened concerns involving the nature of the distribution of vaccines in Europe.

Apparently the EU governments found accordance in a flexible policy designed to help those countries facing worse conditions could access more vaccine if some governments chose not to take their pro rate allocation.

By last Thursday, select countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Poland actually utilized less than 50% of their AstraZeneca doses on stock based on data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

While the EU has been criticized for a slow vaccination rollout here, they can counter that individual EU bloc country governments actually do the primary deal making to procure the vaccines as well as actual vaccination rollout. But even Austria critiqued the bloc as their Chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared that the vaccine doses were not distributed evenly. Without offering any evidence he blamed separate deal making between the EU vaccination steering board and pharmaceutical companies.

More Vaccine Shortfalls: AstraZeneca

Now Europe will face more shortfalls as AstraZeneca reports production problems, and export restrictions impact its planned deliveries. TrialSite reported that Italy blocked export of the product made in Italy for other destinations. Hence at least some nation states in Europe are directly intervening with company business making for an ever tense situation. That AstraZeneca is English and the UK’s Brexit is just recent does surface in many minds.

The Anglo-Swedish multinational pharmaceutical company has produced the most economical of the vaccines made in the West and the delays are ripping through the Continent as, for example, in Germany, in some states, vaccination projects with AstraZeneca are now cancelled

Countries Split from EU

Because of the mounting problems, some EU countries have openly split with the bloc, opting to do deals directly with Russia, for example. As reported in The Lancet, the Czech Republic and Slovakia now are working with Russia to procure Sputnik V despite the fact that that particular vaccine product is not approved by the European Medicines Agency. With COVID-19 infections and mortality rates growing, the leaders here feel they cannot wait around for the EU.

Division and Difference of Risk

While several countries now have instituted at least temporary halts on use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO), suggested that there is no established link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the blood clotting incidents. Hence the official stance of WHO is to proceed with the vaccination, as does the EMA. The WHO vaccines advisory committee continues to investigate the safe data.

Politics, Power & Drugs

As TrialSite has chronicled since the start of this pandemic, drugs (and vaccines) politics, and power, not to mention money, appear to drive as much activity as does the purported multilateral mission to act in unison to reduce the impact of the pandemic, including the saving of  lives. Forms of nationalism, regionalism and other various self-interest not to mention a sort of self-interested competition among myriad market actors manifest from time to time throughout this pandemic. The most recent appearance of such tendencies in Europe occurs while the third wave of the pandemic, driven by virus variants, unfortunately continues to adversely impact human populations.

Bickering and contention surface, such as claims that the UK is behind the scenes blocking vaccine exports to the Continent as reported by the Guardian. Purported data claims evidencing Anglo-Saxon bias were leaked amid a tit-for-tat with leader Boris Johnson. While claims of a UK-ban on exports proved to be incorrect, nonetheless growing calls from Europe sought to better understand what product was going where.

The world has come a long way since the relatively uniform response of leaders to the global economic and financial contagion caused by the great financial collapse of late 2008. For whatever reason, the arrival of the novel coronavirus was met by a very different world.