‘Crisis of confidence’: What’s causing the panic around AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine?

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Credit: Jeremy Selwyn/AP
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a vial of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Credit: Jeremy Selwyn/AP

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is facing a crisis of confidence, with one European country after another, as if seized by a fit of panic, temporarily suspending its use over concerns about reports of blood clots in people who received it.

Denmark, Iceland, and Norway had earlier said they would temporarily stop using the two-dose vaccine. On [March 14], Ireland announced a similar decision. France, Germany, and Italy followed on [March 15].

Experts and Europe’s regulatory body insist that the vaccine’s benefit — preventing Covid-19 and helping to stop the pandemic — outweighs its risks. They note that the number of people to report the side effect is relatively small, and no causal link has been established.

But experts are also now worried that the decisions by multiple countries to suspend the vaccine’s use could make it harder to convince people to receive it should the concerns turn out, as they expect, to be a false alarm.

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The decisions, even if temporary, are likely to have other ripple effects.  They put extraordinary pressure on a large clinical trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine being conducted in the United States, which has not authorized the vaccine’s use. And they raise questions about the rollout of a product that, globally, was expected to be produced most inexpensively and distributed most broadly.

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