WARSAW, POLAND (AP) — Countries across Europe resumed vaccinations with the AstraZeneca shot on Friday, as leaders sought to reassure their populations it is safe following brief suspensions that cast doubt on a vaccine that is critical to ending the coronavirus pandemic.
The British and French prime ministers rolled up their sleeves, as did a handful of other senior politicians across the continent where inoculation drives have repeatedly stumbled and several countries are now re-imposing lockdowns as infections rise in many places.
Britain is a notable exception: The outbreak there has receded, and the country has been widely praised for its vaccination campaign, though this week it announced that it, too, would be hit by supply shortages.
The United Kingdom (UK) also never stopped using AstraZeneca. European Union (EU) countries, by contrast, have struggled to quickly roll out vaccines, and the pause of the vaccine by many this week only added to those troubles.
The suspensions came after reports of blood clots in some recipients of the vaccine, even though international health agencies urged governments to press ahead with the shot, saying the benefits outweighed the risks.
On Thursday, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that the vaccine doesn’t increase the overall incidence of blood clots, though it could not rule out a link to a small number of rare clots. The move paved the way for a slew of European countries including Italy, France and Germany to begin using the vaccine again.
“It’s clear that the revocation of the suspension is for us a great relief because we have to strongly accelerate the vaccination campaign,” said the Head of Prevention at the Italian Health Ministry Dr Giovanni Rezza.
Rezza told reporters in Rome that Italy only reluctantly halted the campaign out of an abundance of caution, but needed to ramp it back up quickly to make up for lost time.
He said Italy needed to more than double the 200,000 vaccinations per day the country had reached before the suspension to reach its goal of inoculating 80 per cent of the population by September.
Health experts have expressed concern that even though the suspensions were brief, they could still damage confidence in the vaccine at a time when many people are already hesitant to take a shot that was developed so quickly.
While many European Union (EU) countries have struggled with such reluctance, it’s even more of a worry in developing nations that may not have any other choice of vaccine. AstraZeneca, which is cheaper and easier to store than many rival products, is the linchpin in vaccination drives in many poorer countries.