No. 28 ~ Somerville ~ March 27, 2021

AstraZeneca: Stumbling down Vaccination Lane

Springtime on The Green: Buckman Tavern provides the backdrop for lunch in Lexington, Massachusetts. The Lexington Militia gathered here on April 19, 1775 before the first battles with the British, and the start of the Revolutionary War.

In normal times, when greed rules, the cost comes out of someone’s pocket. 

In these Covid times, the cost of greed can be felt in lives and livelihoods lost. This past week, in an apparently greedy move, AstraZeneca tried to squeeze a few extra percentage points out of its U.S. vaccine trial results. All this when the results, once complete, showed a vaccine long on efficacy, at 76%. But now the shot is even shorter on the ingredient that ultimately gets a vaccine into people’s arms: trust. 

Trust has been a rare commodity since the beginning for this vaccine.

The vaccine was approved by the European Union early this year, but French health authorities, as other major European countries, approved the vaccine only for those under 65 years old. Additional studies soon surfaced, prompting the French to change the authorization, allowing the vaccine for all adult age groups. That approval was soon followed by a temporary suspension of the vaccine’s use by over a dozen European countries, including France, due to concern about blood clots occuring in vaccinated people. Thirty-seven thrombosis cases had been detected among a population of 17 million who had received the AZ vaccine.

The vaccine was soon approved again, but this time for those over 55. First it was not OK for the old folks, now it is. Not exactly the kind of history that endears a vaccine to the hesitant, and a poll for France’s BFMTV revealed the damage: earlier in March, 22% of the French public said they do not trust the AstraZeneca vaccine; now more than half say so.

Variant strains of the coronavirus are much more prevalent in France than in the U.S., and one more criticism of the AstraZeneca vaccine is that it is not effective enough against the variant first detected in South Africa. 

Sarah Gilbert, director of development of the vaccine at Oxford University, recently admitted to the BBC that, against the S.A. variant, the vaccine “probably does not reduce the total number of cases, but still protects against fatalities, hospitalizations, and serious outcomes.” She is at work on a new version of the vaccine that will address the S.A variant. Hope is it will be ready in autumn.

In the meantime, France is in the grip of infectious variants. Roughly a third of the population — 19 departments — are under what journalists are calling “lockdown light.” Infection rates around Paris are running 22 times higher than in Massachusetts. 

Economical, easy on logistics, and approved for use in over 70 countries, the AstraZeneca vaccine has been targeted for a prominent role in Europe’s vaccination program. The vaccine is better than its public relations, and could still play a major role in that effort if the shots become available and people are willing to take them. France’s target is to have 30 million people, roughly half the population, vaccinated by mid-June. 

So for those who get the AstraZeneca vaccine, the chances of developing a blood clot are apparently two in a million. The chances of getting infected by the coronavirus are way higher than that. 

It’s been a rough go for the AZ jab. But it’s still the perfect time to get vaccinated.
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[Photos by JK unless otherwise noted.]