Missteps could mar credibility of AstraZeneca shot

AP — AstraZeneca’s repeated missteps in reporting vaccine data coupled with a blood clot scare could do lasting damage to the credibility of a shot that is the lynchpin in the global strategy to stop the coronavirus pandemic, potentially even undermining vaccine confidence more broadly, experts said.

The latest stumble for the vaccine came on Tuesday, when American officials issued an unusual statement expressing concern that AstraZeneca had included “outdated information” when it reported encouraging results from a United States (US) trial a day earlier. That may have provided “an incomplete view of the efficacy data”, according to the statement.

AstraZeneca responded that the results, which showed its shot was about 79 per cent effective, included information through February 17 but appeared to be consistent with more up-to-date data. It promised an update within 48 hours.

An independent panel that oversees the study scolded the company in a letter on Monday for cherry-picking data, according to a senior administration official.

The panel wrote to AstraZeneca and US health leaders that it was concerned the company chose to use data that was outdated and potentially misleading instead of the most recent findings, according to the official, who discussed the contents on the condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter.

Even if the damage is limited to AstraZeneca itself, it would have far-reaching effects since the shot is cheaper and easier to store than many of its rivals’ and thus is expected to be widely used in the developing world.

International health agencies have repeatedly said the vaccine is safe and effective, but it’s not the first time the company has run into problems with public trust.

Partial results from its first major trial — which Britain used to authorise the vaccine — were clouded by a manufacturing mistake that researchers didn’t immediately acknowledge. Other European countries had expressed reservations on using the vaccine. The tepid support for the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe stands in contrast to governments in the developing world that are desperate for supplies.

Senior Advisor Dr Bruce Aylward, at the World Health Organization (WHO), said the agency has a long list of countries “very keen” to get the shot as soon as possible.

But some experts have worried that the skepticism in Europe could eventually cast a pall over the vaccine worldwide.

They suggested one measure that could reassure a jittery public: a green light from the US Food and Drug Administration.

“If the US regulator looks at this data and authorises AstraZeneca, that will carry a lot of weight,” said Professor of International Public Health Jimmy Whitworth from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.