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AstraZeneca’s pause in Europe raises doubts in other parts of the world.

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AstraZeneca's pause in Europe raises doubts in other parts of the world.
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AstraZeneca's pause in Europe raises doubts in other parts of the world.

AstraZeneca’s pause in Europe raises doubts in other parts of the world.

 

The suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine in many European countries over the last week may fuel doubts about the vaccine well beyond their borders, jeopardizing the rollout of a vaccine that is critical to the global strategy to end the coronavirus pandemic, especially in developing countries.

For certain poorer countries, it’s either AstraZeneca or none right now. The vaccine developed by the Anglo-Swedish pharmaceutical company is less expensive and easier to store than many others. COVAX, a consortium dedicated to ensuring vaccine delivery to low- and middle-income nations, will use it to make up almost all of the doses shipped in the first half of the year.

Most developing countries that had the AstraZeneca vaccine on hand went ahead with it despite major European countries halting its use over the past week after reports of irregular blood clots being found in some vaccine recipients — despite insistence from international health organizations that the vaccine was not to blame.

Although governments in Africa and other parts of the world have announced their intention to continue using the shot, not everyone is persuaded.

“Why should I allow it to be used on me?” says the narrator. Aren’t we all human beings, much like the Europeans?” According to Peter Odongo, a resident of a town in northern Uganda, who spoke to the Daily Monitor this week.

By Tuesday, the East African country had received 864,000 AstraZeneca doses through COVAX but had only administered 3,000. Authorities blamed logistical difficulties in transporting the vaccines across the world, but newspaper reports claim that the vaccine is resistant.

Well before the recent AstraZeneca controversy, vaccine skepticism was a big issue around the world, with many people suspicious of shots produced in record time. African countries have faced unique challenges on a continent that is wary of serving as a test bed for the West. Some leaders, such as those in Burundi and Tanzania, have fought back against skepticism, while others, such as those in Burundi and Tanzania, have fuelled it by attempting to downplay COVID-19’s significance.

“Unfortunate events” in Europe would ”clearly not be helpful for our public confidence, in building public confidence and trust on the use of that particular vaccine and other vaccines for sure,” said John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to reporters on Thursday.

The announcement came just hours after the European Union’s drug regulator sent the same message to its 27 members. The European Medicines Agency said its experts concluded that the vaccine is not related to an overall rise in the incidence of blood clots, but it couldn’t rule out the possibility of a correlation between the vaccine and unusual types of clots. As a result, countries such as Italy, France, and Germany have declared that they would resume using the shot.

Several developed countries had said they would hold to the shot even before those reversals.

“We will continue the vaccinations,” Lia Tadesse, Ethiopia’s health minister, said last week after the country collected 2.2 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Authorities in India, which is home to the vaccine manufacturer that will likely produce a significant portion of the doses intended for the developing world, said Wednesday that AstraZeneca inoculations will be continued with “full vigor” in many parts of the region, despite an increase in infections. Thailand announced Tuesday that it would continue to use AstraZeneca’s vaccine after initially delaying it. The prime minister also received his shot in public.

The first AstraZeneca shots bottled in Brazil were delivered on Wednesday by Brazil’s state-run Fiocruz institute, as the Health Ministry tried to allay fears over the blood clot reports by urging calm.

Just a few developed nations defied the trend. Congo, for example, has stopped using AstraZeneca, putting its vaccine program on hold long before it started due to a lack of alternative doses. Indonesia paused the shot as well, but announced on Friday that it would resume using it.

AstraZeneca is currently the linchpin in the strategy to vaccinate the rest of the world. European and other affluent countries have many vaccine choices, but AstraZeneca is currently the linchpin in the strategy to vaccinate the rest of the world. Some developing countries have received doses of Chinese or Russian-made vaccines as donations, but these allotments have typically been limited, at least in Africa. COVAX is unable to sell Chinese and Russian vaccines because they have not yet been approved by WHO.

Africa, which has a population of 1.3 billion people, plans to vaccinate 60% of its population by the year 2022. Without widespread use of AstraZeneca, the target would almost certainly be missed. Experts also cautioned that once global vaccination rates are high, the virus will continue to be a problem everywhere.

The waning trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine only adds to the challenges Africa will face in implementing its vaccination programs. Some of the world’s worst health services are located on the continent. Countries have failed to screen enough people for the coronavirus, and the true toll is uncertain due to difficulties monitoring cases and deaths. More than 4 million coronavirus cases have been reported across Africa, with over 108,000 deaths, according to the Africa CDC.

The World Bank found that while 85 percent of low- and middle-income countries had a vaccination programme, only about a third had public engagement programs in place to address vaccine skepticism and misinformation.

As a result, uncertainty like the one created by AstraZeneca’s pause in Europe can be difficult to resolve.

The suspension, according to Dr. Misaki Wayengera, head of a technical taskforce advising Uganda’s pandemic response, “complicates the situation.” “This is our best chance, and we should be able to handle it.”

The blow to public trust was felt in countries like Somalia, where vaccinations started on Tuesday but some people said they didn’t want to get the AstraZeneca shot, despite the fact that many in Europe didn’t.

Abdulkadir Osman said, “This immunization makes no sense when the EU countries have suspended its use.” “We can’t just put our confidence in it.”

In Rwanda, which received 240,000 AstraZeneca doses and just over 102,000 of the Pfizer vaccine, Justin Gatsinzi said he was initially reluctant to get the shot but relented out of fear he would be denied some public services if he refused.

“It’s very tricky actually,” said Gatsinzi, a teacher, adding that he was not told which vaccine he got.

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