Those who do it themselves are bad for Europe
There is no peace for AstraZeneca: almost a month after the first stop imposed by Berlin after detecting 7 cases of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis among the vaccinated, the countries of the European Union they decided to limit (again) the distribution of the Oxford serum. In Italy it will only be inoculated to over 60s (in Germany it has already been happening for a week) in France and Belgium there is OK only from the age of 55, and in the meantime also in the United Kingdom – where over 11 million already received the serum – the UK drug authority has prescribed to offer under 30s an alternative.
A predictable epilogue, because on the AstraZeneca affair the countries of the European Union have acted from the beginning like more or less loose dogs, with the Dobermans on top pulling the heap and the others following, but without a common guide. Not even that of the EMA, which has always spoken according to the data at its disposal but after a series of unheard recommendations, raised the white flag and said to the countries: you do it. And so it was. Now AstraZeneca’s wildfire distribution it’s a litmus test of the state of the Union, which on the case has shown the inability to act united, according to a common health policy.
A story that started badly
That of AstraZeneca is a bad story: when the EMA authorized the administration of the vaccine for the first time, Berlin and Paris immediately started going on their own. The European Medicines Agency authorized the Oxford serum on January 29, but Merkel and Macron decided to inject it only to the youngest groups of the population because experts had admitted that they did not have all the data on efficacy for those over 55. Rome followed suit and the vaccine, amid the delays in the delivery of doses and the tug-of-war with Brussels on contracts, went only to the under 65s.
Then the paradox. The suspected cases of thrombosis rare, highlighted by the Paul Ehrlich Institute, the German agency for the safety of medicines, which occurred in the lower age groups, among the under 55: precisely those who were initially considered out of danger. Hence the decision to suspend the lots undertaken by the individual states, first by the Scandinavian bloc and then by the continental-Mediterranean bloc, led by Germany, pending the new opinion of the EMA. The experts on March 18 said that they could not yet pronounce themselves on the correlation between vaccines and thrombosis, however reiterating the efficacy and safety of the drug.
A fact that the European Agency continues to support: even yesterday, after confirming the causal link between AstraZeneca and “rare cases of thrombosis”, the executive director Emer Cooke did not consider new measures on administration necessary, also because “the age , sex or previous medical history of coagulation disorders have not been able to be confirmed as rare events occur in all ages and in both men and women ”. But the assessment is that the benefits still far outweigh the risks: death from Covid is much more likely than death from side effects. With what credibility, if in the meantime Germany, Holland, Finland, Denmark and Norway had already imposed new restrictions or suspended the vaccine a week ago?
Everyone for himself
Perhaps this is also why Cooke gave up. The real recommendation of the EMA was to “make people trust the vaccine, because to beat this disease it is very important to use the drugs available today”. For the rest, faced with the already discordant chorus of the 27, he recommended that the countries decide on their own and based on the progress of the pandemic in individual states, looking at the epidemiological curve and the availability of vaccines.
But in order to limit the damage and try not to further confuse the astonished and disheartened population by the constant changes of gear, a click was needed in the communication at least in the European Council, where after the EMA press conference the ministers of Health of individual Member States. The Portuguese presidency, supported by the Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides, tried to impose a common line: the recommendation was to ban in all countries the use of AstraZeneca only for people under 60. But the proposal did not pass and everyone has decided for himself.
The appeal of Speranza, who would have preferred to follow the instructions of the EMA, avoiding stakes was useless: “It is not enough to exchange information. Those we can read in the newspapers. We must have the courage to decide together ”, said the Italian Health Minister. A courage that was lacking and that now sees a continent going crazy in the administration of the vaccine: while in continental Europe different bans apply for age groups, in Denmark and Finland the block decided already two weeks ago and the countries of the central-eastern block remain, who have staked everything on Oxford, will instead continue to administer AstraZeneca as before.
“An all-European disaster”
Kyriakides’ call for a patch is that national experts work with the EMA to develop a coordinated approach, which also takes into account studies on age groups, “in the hope of being able to make a decision soon”. But it is too late, because the affair has already shown all the weakness of the European Union. Brussels does not have a common health policy, this is made up of the often conflicting wishes of the individual states, the same ones that have prevented them from behaving boldly when negotiating with Big Pharma. In the words of Paul Krugman, “an all-European disaster“.
The disaster of the AstraZeneca case lies in the inability of the various countries to give up their positions and act with one voice, relying only on science to credibly carry out an already compromised vaccination campaign. The Union continues at different speeds, fragmented into blocs that in turn come together around the will of one or two countries pulling the wagon. And in which even those who do not want to, queue. But the risk is that it will collapse, this time yes, all together.
Read also: 1. AstraZeneca, stop administering to under 60s. Locatelli: “It’s not the funeral of the vaccine” 2. AstraZeneca: why has a safe vaccine been suspended? Populism, economic interests, Brexit: all the hypotheses