‘Deeply unfair’: France and Germany struggle to sell AstraZeneca vaccine safety

'Deeply unfair': France and Germany struggle to sell AstraZeneca vaccine safety
A teacher in Apolda, in the German state ofThuringia, receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine on Sunday. Photo: DPA
Already facing a daunting Covid vaccination challenge, French and German authorities are fighting to convince more people that a jab from the pharma giant AstraZeneca is just as effective as others.

Stocks of the vaccines from the British-Swedish firm are going unused in both countries, depriving officials of a crucial tool to help end a pandemic that has been a social and economic calamity on a scale not seen since World War II.

Only 273,000 AstraZeneca doses have been administered in France out of 1.7 million received as of end-February, according to health ministry figures.

In France the AstraZeneca jab has been used for health workers since February 8th, but only became available from GPs from February 28th. The GP rollout is currently reserved for the 50-64-year-old age group who have underlying health conditions, although the AstraZeneca jab is expected to be used in a rollout via pharmacies in March.

Several French hospitals have either paused or slowed their AstraZeneca vaccine rollout for staff as temporary but severe side effects were causing major logistical problems as large numbers of staff needed time off work to recover.

Medical regulators in France and Germany have only licenced the vaccine for use in the under 65s, fanning fears over its effectiveness compared to the two others approved for Europe, from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

READ ALSO: 6 Covid-19 vaccine challenges Germany is facing right now

Jacques Battistoni, head of the MG France doctors’ union, last week denounced the widespread “AstraZeneca bashing” that was causing many vials to go unused.

Health Minister Olivier Véran, himself a doctor, tried to dispel the doubts by getting the vaccine live on TV.

And the country’s vaccination coordinator, Alain Fischer, complained last week that the “bad press” surrounding the shot was “deeply unfair”.

READ ALSO: Several French hospitals pause AstraZeneca vaccine campaign over temporary side effects

Even President Emmanuel Macron didn’t do any favours when he described the AstraZeneca jab as “quasi-ineffective for people over 65” – just hours before the European Medicines Agency gave it the green light for use in age age groups. 

And on Monday Macron made his first visit to a Covid vaccination centre.

Several other European countries including Poland and Sweden have also only licenced the vaccine for use in the under 65s, citing concern about a lack of test data for older people, while Switzerland and the USA have not licenced it for use at all.

‘Every day counts’

In Germany as well, calls are growing to relax the vaccination priority list to make sure no AstraZeneca shots go to waste.

By February 23rd, 1.45 million doses had been delivered to Germany, of which only 240,000 had been injected.

The controversy has contributed to the government’s decision to move teachers and childcare workers from priority group three to group two.

READ ALSO: Germany’s teachers and Kita staff given green light to get Covid-19 vaccine this week

But some regional leaders are urging Germany to go further still, with Bavarian prime minister Markus Söder on Sunday saying “not a single AstraZeneca dose should be left over or thrown out”.

“Before that happens: vaccinate anyone who wants it,” he told the Bild am Sonntag daily. “Every day counts.”

The leader of Baden-Württemberg state, Winfried Kretschmann, said Germany could not afford to have vaccines going unused because some of those entitled to it are snubbing it.

“In that case, we should loosen our strict regulations and vaccinate people even if it’s not their turn yet under the priority guidelines,” Kretschmann told the Welt am Sonntag daily.

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 regional leaders are meeting on Wednesday to discuss the next steps in the fight against the pandemic.

Merkel herself praised the AstraZeneca shot as “a vaccine that can be trusted” in an interview last week and pleaded with Germans not to pick and choose their vaccines.

When asked if she would lead by example and take the AstraZeneca vaccine, Merkel replied that she was not eligible for this particular jab given that she was 66 years old.

READ ALSO: ‘Take AstraZeneca now’: German officials plead with public to get jab amid scepticism

The question is sure to re-emerge however if Germany’s vaccine commission does decide to recommend the jab for those aged 65 and over.

The STIKO commission “will very soon publish a new updated recommendation” after a study showed it to be effective for the elderly, its head Thomas Mertens said last Friday.


Member comments

  1. Well said Simon. I want the AZ vaccine but I am not allowed to have it as I am 68 and have a couple of health problems not significant enough to fit into the 50-64 group. I believe this vaccine is also being offered to the working population without underlying health problems . A tad unfair, although economically advantageous . Tough luck for those who have recently retired.Rock and a hard place.Not a vaccine in sight for the 65-74 age group in the foreseeable future.
    I have two adult children living at home ,working in public areas and terrified of picking up the virus and passing it on to me. This is an situation that has not been considered in this health crisis as many young people live at home with older than average aged parents for economic reasons. If I lived on my own isolation would not be a major problem for me.Very difficult for the young ones.
    France, evidently has plenty of AZ vaccines so what is stopping them rolling them out all all people who are willing to have the jab. Not very Egalitarian. Ironically,I booked my vaccine in the 06 region in mid January on the government’s advice. Both were cancelled due to lack of stock. Why encourage people to be vaccinated without the resources or freedom to choose? I suppose I am one of the vaccine generation who grew up in times when polio, and assorted dangerous diseases were commonplace so a vaccine was what you did.
    The likelihood of getting a vaccine in this region now is more than remote for the immediate future. I have given up on Doctolib and Santé.fr a smoke screen and a waste of time so good old fashioned hand hygiene and social distancing will have to do for now.

  2. They have recently opened it up for school and kindergarten employees from 18-64 years of age to get the Astra Zeneca vaccine. However, I tried to book an appointment in my state today, and could not get an appointment near me anywhere. All the vaccine centers nearby have no availability, so I finally got an appointment nearly 2 hours away for 2 weeks from today. Someone is not telling the truth about there being a surplus if one cannot even get an appointment. Either that or they are doing a very poor job of organizing the scheduling. At any rate, I will be happy to have one if it actually comes to pass.

  3. The latest British Government media briefing has just announced to the nation that even the first dose alone of the Oxford/Astra-Zeneca vaccine is cutting the numbers of people who become seriously ill from Covid-19 by 80%. And this is not ‘research or modelling’. This is data from the real world. The UK will very soon be in a situation where those vulnerable people who can actually become seriously ill or die from Covid-19 will be protected. Hospitals will not be at risk of being overwhelmed any more. And life gets back to normal. Wake up, Europe – this is ALL about the vaccine.

  4. As a sufferer a couple of years under 65 with respiratory problems I can have it from my GP in a fortnight as part of the 50-65 with health problems tranche. Would I prefer Pfizer.. possibly. But am I going to turn AZ down? Like hell I am. I can be fully vaccinated with the 2 shots by April. How long would I wait if I didn’t take it up – too chuffing long.

    As it happens the date for the first shot is my birthday. A very good birthday present indeed I think.

    1. Worse for me are people who have an appointment & simply don’t show up. That is a slot wasted, & they definitely should be the last in the line for a jab later on

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