I assumed the hysteria abroad over AstraZeneca’s vaccine supposedly causing blood clots would do damage to vaccine confidence, even after the WHO and Europe’s top regulator declared the product safe last week after further study. But I didn’t expect this. What a disaster:
European confidence in AstraZeneca vaccine safety sinks after blood clot scare (changes in last 2/3 weeks)
— YouGov (@YouGov) March 22, 2021
Those results are circulating on the same day that the data from AZ’s extensive U.S. and South American trials confirm that it’s effective at preventing symptomatic cases and safe. Why does it matter that AstraZeneca’s gotten a bad rap when there are three other vaccines on the market? Because: AZ is the cheapest of the lot and easy to store. Because of its cost and its logistical simplicity, scientists were expecting it to be the vaccine most commonly used around the world, especially in poorer countries where deep-freeze equipment for storage is less common. And even in richer countries like those in Europe, having locals shun the widely available AstraZeneca vaccine means mass immunization will proceed that much more slowly.
We’re going to have a longer global pandemic thanks to a mass freakout over a few dozen incidents of blood clotting among those inoculated with AstraZeneca’s product, one enabled by European leaders who decided to humor the panickers by pausing distribution of the vaccine instead of rolling it out. By contrast, Boris Johnson not only stood by AstraZeneca, he got a dose of it himself a few days ago to signal his confidence in the product. You can see for yourself in the graph above how much more mild the slide in confidence was in AZ in the UK as compared to continental Europe. (The fact that the AstraZeneca vaccine was developed by Oxford didn’t hurt either.)
Speaking of which, here’s how Great Britain’s controversial “first doses first” effort to vaccinate its population with AstraZeneca and other vaccines is going:
The United Kingdom’s daily death toll from COVID-19 fell to 17 on Monday, the lowest figure in about six months, official data showed.
Figures showed 17 people had died within 28 days of having received a positive test for the disease, and that deaths in the last seven days were down 42% on the week before.
The government’s strategy while its supply was limited was to give out as many first doses as possible, knowing that that would provide solid if reduced protection, and then start dishing out second doses much later. That was risky inasmuch as Pfizer and Moderna each recommend that the second dose be given within a few weeks of the first, not a few months, but Britain wanted to have partial immunity in the greatest possible number rather than full immunity in a smaller number, believing that that would drive down cases more quickly. Result: More than half of all British adults have received their first dose and cases in the UK are now less than a tenth of what they were during the country’s winter peak. They’ve prioritized speed and wide coverage in their vaccination program and it’s paid off. Yesterday they dished out 870,000 doses, which per capita is the equivalent of well over four million in the U.S., a pace we haven’t approached yet.
They had a ferocious winter outbreak driven by an unusually contagious variant and now they’ve largely dug themselves out of it, thanks to a lockdown — and to AstraZeneca, the vaccine Europeans stuck in a third wave of COVID are now scared of.
Meanwhile, in Israel, another country with a rapid pace of vaccination (albeit with Pfizer’s product, not AstraZeneca’s):
Israel: Fully open economy, R still declining, now 0.62
40 days after exiting lockdown
From the peak of mid-January:
85% fewer daily deaths
72% fewer daily critically ill
86% fewer daily cases
40 days after exiting the previous October lockdown, R was already at 1.15 pic.twitter.com/44Gw86nynq
— Eran Segal (@segal_eran) March 22, 2021
Among people 60 and over, cases are down 86 percent since the mid-January peak and deaths are down 91 percent. Hopefully results like that plus the spectacle of the UK emerging from its pandemic months before the continent does will convince reluctant Europeans to swallow their anxiety and give AstraZeneca a second chance after all. There’s lots of work to be done trust-wise before then, though. Europe may have more vaccine skeptics today than it did a month ago, thanks to weak leadership.