1000 GMT April 10, 2021
The role of Germany, and in particular Health Minister Jens Spahn, is in the spotlight after a chaotic round of telephone diplomacy at the start of the week ended with the EU’s biggest states agreeing to put AstraZeneca on hold, according to Reuters.
Spahn says he acted on expert advice after Germany’s vaccine watchdog reported on what it described as a statistically significant number of cases of a rare brain blood clot.
AstraZeneca says it has found no evidence that the blood clots were caused by the vaccine. The World Health Organization called on countries not to delay lifesaving vaccine programs.
Germany’s actions have been interpreted as political both at home and abroad, with opposition leaders calling on Chancellor Angela Merkel to sack Spahn. Officials in major European capitals have given mixed accounts over how the joint move to halt AstraZeneca came about.
The stop on AstraZeneca threatens to hobble Europe’s vaccination campaign just as a third wave of infection breaks over the continent, accelerated by more infectious variants.
The bloc has already lagged far behind the United States and former EU member Britain in vaccinating citizens. Hospitals are filling up again, and politicians in several European countries have been forced to consider fresh lockdowns, even as comparable rich countries prepare for normal life to return.
“We need this vaccine,” said Germany’s best-known virologist Christian Drosten, whose regular podcast is widely followed. He cited forecasts of a resurgence in infection by Easter that could endanger Germans over the age of 60 who are next in line for a shot.
Ian Jones, a professor of virology at Britian’s Reading University, said the blood clot issue had “been picked up by politicians who don’t know one side of a virus from another”.
“It’s like falling dominoes. You just need one or two (countries) to state there’s a problem and suspend use, and then a whole lot of others will fall in place. I don’t think there have been any independent decisions,” he told Reuters.
Germany acted after its vaccine oversight body, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, found seven cases of a very rare cerebral vein clot among 1.6 million people given the AstraZeneca shot in the country, including three cases that were fatal.
The EU drug regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is investigating reports of around 30 cases of blood clots, bleeding and low platelet counts among the 5 million people in the EU that have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.