ViewPoints: FirstWord survey says reputation of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine at risk in Europe

Following temporary suspensions announced across the continent this week, eight in ten physicians surveyed said public brand confidence will have been eroded.

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This week a number of major European countries temporarily suspended their use of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, after it was linked to an increased risk of rare thrombotic events.

Both the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency continue to support use of the vaccine saying its benefits outweigh any safety risks.

The EMA subsequently provided new guidance on Thursday supporting use of the vaccine which we discussed at length with leading drug-safety expert Anthony Cox on The FirstTake podcast here.

Following the EMA’s review some European countries have said they will now resume using the vaccine, although France will restrict its use to over-55s and Norway, Sweden and Denmark have reserved judgement until next week.

The decision to temporarily pause use of the vaccine, if only for a couple of days, has proven controversial. Not only as it occurs against the backdrop of a continued dispute between the European Union, AstraZeneca and the UK about supply shortfalls, but also as COVID case numbers are rising sharply across mainland Europe and prompting new lockdown measures.

Furthermore vaccine hesitancy rates are high in many countries, such as France.

Our survey of 57 European infectious disease specialists (from France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK) shows that two-thirds of respondents believe it was the wrong decision to temporarily suspend use of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, against the underlying recommendation of the EMA.

Furthermore, 80% of the physicians we surveyed think the suspension – though short and temporary in many cases – will have eroded public confidence in the vaccine; an outcome with potentially significant consequences given the precarious situation many European countries currently find themselves in.

Using a seven-point scale, survey respondents said on average that they are more than moderately concerned (average rating of 5) that the politicisation of vaccine-related issues will have a significantly detrimental effect on the short-term success of the COVID-19 vaccination programme being run in their country. 

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