A file photo of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine Photograph:( Reuters )
Could the move to suspend AstraZeneca have been a political one? There is a strong case to be made
Europe is a continent divided with 17 countries on one side and 27 on the other. Separating them is the AstraZeneca vaccine. Riled by fears of blood clots, Europe's big powers have suspended its use. Germany, France, Italy and Spain are among them.
Worldwide, at least 20 nations have paused their vaccine rollout. They want more clarity on the jab's safety. It's a huge blow to the global immunisation drive. Every day AstraZeneca remains shelved, lives are lost.
The expert opinion is clear. The blood clots are unrelated to vaccines. The benefits of taking the shot outweigh the risks.
"While the investigation is ongoing, currently, we are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of these side effects," said Emer Cooke, Executive Director of European Medicines Agency.
The Europeans are playing wait and watch. On Thursday, EU's top medicines regulator will analyse the effects of AstraZeneca. They are expected to give a clean chit. Chances are, member states will lift the suspension soon after.
Unless the problem has something to do with other than just science.
Could the move to suspend AstraZeneca have been a political one? There is a strong case to be made.
For starters, AstraZeneca is a British vaccine. Relations across the channel have been frayed since Brexit. And two, Europe's vaccination drive was stumbling. AstraZeneca was the perfect distraction.
"The EU's own regulators said there's no reason, no grounds to suspend taking the vaccine or the rollout and that is itself echoed by the World Health Organization. So this vaccine is safe. We respect the processes and the procedures that some other countries may need to go through, but the vaccine is safe and people should certainly continue to take it to protect themselves and their friends and family, " said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
So, is the fear over blood clots warranted? There have been 37 cases in 17 million recipients. Experts say it's hardly a trend.
And beyond Europe, AstraZeneca remains much sought after. The US has placed an order for half a million doses. Australia says it will continue to use the jabs. And on Tuesday, the Thai prime minister took the shot himself just hours after France and Germany announced their suspension.
In Europe, Serbia and Belgium plan to continue using AstraZeneca.
Europe's inoculation drive is already losing steam. The bloc has given 11 shots per 100 people. Britain is administering more than thrice that. The sudden suspension could also reignite anti-vaccine sentiments.
AstraZeneca was touted as the bulwark against the Wuhan virus. It is cheap and easy to store.
Time is of the essence in vaccination drives. And now is not the time to abandon your most potent weapon.