The European Commission defended the bloc’s strict regulatory process for vaccines as crucial for both safety as well as for persuading EU citizens to get the jab, calling on member states to fight any particular vaccine hesitancy with more information.
The comments come after several member states reported a low acceptance rate for the AstraZeneca vaccine, with healthcare workers opting for other jabs – triggering fears over a knock-on potential slowdown of national vaccine programmes.
“[EMA’s] assessment is itself a very powerful signal to citizens that these vaccines that they are injected with are safe and effective,” a commission spokesperson said on Monday (22 February).
“But, in addition, it is important that member states and the commission continue to inform citizens of the importance of getting the vaccines done because we need certain levels of vaccination to win this fight against the virus,” he added.
Brussels aims to vaccinate at least 70 percent of its adult population by the end of September.
However, health authorities in some European countries – such as Germany, Italy, Austria and Bulgaria – are facing resistance to AstraZeneca’s vaccine over fears and confusion regarding age limitations, efficacy against new mutations and side effects.
Several countries, including Germany, Belgium, and France, have advised against giving it to the elderly.
And health workers in some members states have reported stronger reactions from the AstraZeneca jab than those seen with the alternative vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech.
For example, two of 21 healthcare regions in Sweden had to pause vaccinations of their staff when a quarter called in sick after being vaccinated with the AstraZeneca shot.
In Germany, meanwhile, only some 87,000 of the 736,800 AstraZeneca vaccine doses received so far have been used, according to the Robert Koch Institute.
And experts warned that the country’s vaccine schedule could be pushed back by up to two months if the AstraZeneca jab is not widely accepted.
“From our point of view, it is wrong that this vaccine is available but not being used,” said last week German health minister Jens Spahn.
Earlier this month, a group representing 3,000 doctors in Italy also wrote in a letter to the Italian government that “private doctors and dentists be inoculated with mRNA vaccines” like those developed by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech, arguing that “there is evidence they are more effective” in comparison to AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca’s vector-based vaccine is the third jab authorised in the EU. It demonstrated around a 60 percent efficacy in the clinical trials, while Moderna and Pfizer/bioNtech jabs showed a 95 percent.
Meanwhile, a research led by Public Health Scotland found on Monday that hospitalisations were reduced by 85 percent and 94 percent of the Pfizer/BioNtech and AstraZeneca jabs respectively in the fourth week after the first dose.
For people over 80 years old, there was an overall 81 percent cut in hospital admissions.
The data, covering 1.14 million vaccinations given in Scotland between 8 December and 15 February, validates the UK’s decision to delay the second jab for up to twelve weeks in favour of vaccinating as many people as possible with a single dose.
Lead researcher professor Aziz Sheikh said the results showed that vaccines were working “spectacularly”.
“These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future,” she said.