This is how confidence in a vaccine dies: the controversy between AstraZeneca and the European Union begins to negatively affect the image of the Oxford vaccine
AstraZeneca is back on trend. According to Reuters, the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company has just communicated to the European Union that will deliver less than half of the vaccines against Covid-19 that were agreed for the second quarter. A delay in addition to the one already announced for the first quarter and that caused the “vaccine crisis” a few weeks ago.
This has led to fears that the EU target of vaccinating 70% of the population by summer will be compromised; however, as vaccines like Johnson & Johnson, Curevac or Novavax are nearing approval, that fear seems unfounded. The interesting thing about AstraZeneca begins to be something else: a clear example of how social, political and media reactions around a vaccine they can end up blowing up public trust in her.
And it is that, in many parts of Europe, confidence in the Oxford vaccine has plummeted for no solid reason behind.
What about AstraZeneca?
The most visible case is Germany. Across the country, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute, only 87,000 of the 736,800 doses have been used AstraZeneca vaccine delivered to date. In Spain, to get an idea141,258 of the 418,000 he has received have been posted.
This, in part, is explained by the characteristics of vaccination with AstraZeneca: restricted to people under 65, efforts tend to focus on the most vulnerable layers of the population. However, this does not account for the whole problem. Some days ago, German public radio, Deutsche Welle, published a report that warned that AZ vaccine was still very unpopular.
He explained that, among health personnel, it had become common to refuse the vaccine claiming that it was ineffective or even unsafe for new strains. Although it is always difficult to establish a direct relationship, this seems to indicate that it is a direct reflection of the controversy of recent months. It should not be forgotten that it was precisely the German press that posted the fake exclusive about what the efficacy of the vaccine was 8% in those over 65 and that lhe news about the “paralysis” of this same vaccine in South Africa they have enjoyed a lot of echo in the country.
The birth of a ‘Black Legend’
However, the reality is that AstraZeneca’s “black legend” has gone far beyond the data allowable. In Germany itself, numerous experts such as the virologist Christian Drosten or the immunologist Carsten Watzl they have denounced misinformation and they have clarified what “To say that the AstraZeneca vaccine is second-rate is completely misplacedboth scientifically and in terms of actual effects. “
As we have explained on several occasions, the efficacy figures we handle depend on clinical trials and comparing them is an almost impossible task. In fact, what we are finding in some preliminary data (like those in Scotland) is that with a good design of the vaccination campaign the results of AstraZeneca can be better than those of mRNA vaccines.
It is clear that social reluctance is reasonable. For months we have reflected on the difficulty of sustaining at the same time that we had obtained vaccines very quickly and that it was perfectly safe. However, the data speaks for itself: 200 million vaccines have already been given, the safety and efficiency data is starting to get overwhelming and fortunately skepticism is getting harder to sustain.
History of an announced crisis
The most interesting thing about all this is that we can’t say it’s a surprise. In October 2013, when one of the world’s great medical journals, the BMJ, published one by of studies which suggested that the side effects of statins (an anti-cholesterol drug) may outweigh the benefits. After months of underground debate, fear erupted in March 2014 with headlines such as “Why I have given up statins for the better” (The Daily Telegraph).
The funny thing is that, although most of the media published the studies with reservations (“Doctors’ fear of statins can cost lives, researchers say“Said ‘The Guardian’;”Statins do NOT have major side effects“, headlined Daily Mail), the effects of the controversy were dramatic: 11-12% of people taking statins (and needed it) stopped taking as a consequence of it.
During these months of pandemic we are learning a lot about how health attitudes, political measures and media controversies interact. In what we have seen novelties is in this type of mechanisms that turn trust into a “non-renewable resource”; something that is difficult to build, but dissolves quickly and creates huge social problems afterwards.
Picture | Marco Verch