PARIS (AP) – First, the President of France suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine was “almost ineffective” in protecting the elderly from COVID-19. Now the government of Emmanuel Macron is asking the people to take it.
Germany is in a similar situation.
This week, Berlin changed the pace of its precautionary policy after an independent vaccines committee said AstraZeneca shots should be used on people over 65. Top German officials on Friday spoke out against “vaccine shopping” and called on people to take whatever potential protection they are offered.
The mixed reports left many people in both countries confused or distrustful of the government̵
European governments’ initial hesitation about the AstraZeneca vaccine is based on limited data on whether it works for those over 65 years of age. But new evidence of its effectiveness – and pressure to accelerate the slow spread of vaccines in the EU and the use of unused doses of AstraZeneca – prompted health authorities in many European countries this week to reverse the course and allow its use for all ages.
In France, everyone who works with the sick or elderly has been eligible for the AstraZeneca vaccine for weeks – but only 30% have taken it so far. Some say they want a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine instead, which is currently only available in France for the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions.
Thus, the French Minister of Health Olivier Veran sent a letter to all health workers on Friday, urging them to be vaccinated. And if that doesn’t help, he said he could convene a special ethics committee to assess their requirement to do so.
“Obviously this (30%) is not enough,” Veran told a news conference Thursday night. While paying tribute to the health professionals, he said: “When you are a medical professional, it is your responsibility to protect … yourself and your patients.”
Next to him, a family doctor repeated the request. “I appeal to my colleagues: Please come and get vaccinated,” said Dr. Marie-Lore Albie, noting that her patients are eager to receive any vaccine.
The head of the German disease control agency called on people to be vaccinated when given the opportunity. The comments of Robert Koch Institute President Lothar Wheeler came amid reports that many in the country were refusing to shoot AstraZeneca for fears it might not work as well as others.
“If you are offered a vaccine, please get vaccinated. They are safe and effective, “Wheeler said, adding that gathering a large number of people is” the way out of the pandemic. “
The vaccine, made by the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca, is one of three approved for use in the 27-nation European Union, although it has not yet received the green light from US regulators. EU countries also use the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – and French nurse Michele Frere said she prefers one.
“If we are vaccinated with AstraZeneca and it is not as effective as Pfizer or others, then we will get COVID and there will be no medical staff to take care of the people I care for,” she told the Associated Press.
She is concerned about the virus – “I’m constantly being tested” – and the doctors and nurses who lost their lives fighting it. But she said she and some colleagues believe the government is trying to get rid of the additional AstraZeneca vaccines by imposing them on medical staff.
France, which has one of the highest coronavirus charges in Europe with more than 87,000 deaths, has used only 25% of the 1.6 million AstraZeneca vaccines it has received since Tuesday. Restrictive rules and a surge in supplies left Germany sitting in a warehouse of more than 2 million doses of AstraZeneca this week.
France’s skeptics often echoed Macron’s comment last month when he told reporters: “The real problem with AstraZeneca is that it doesn’t work the way we expected … today, everything points to it being almost ineffective for people over the age of 65 years. “Hours after he spoke, the European Medicines Agency approved the use of the vaccine for all ages, but its image was damaged.
Some also cite confusing early data on the effectiveness of AstraZeneca or wonder if it works against new variants of the virus. The company is working on a new version to respond to the changing options.
European efforts to rehabilitate the vaccine’s reputation are coming as new infections have risen 9% across the continent in the past week, halting a six-week decline.
Rising contributed from Berlin.
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