The COVID-19 pandemic needs to be tamed. Global leaders have pushed forward vaccine development in order to sooner return to the “normal”, with the understanding that this normal could only be achieved by developing herd immunity through mass vaccination. Integrally, the principle commonly held is that every injection is another person protected. However, at the beginning of this week, some countries around the world have reported some new yet dangerous side effects of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and decided to suspend it. As a result, many EU countries subsequently followed suit. However, On the 19th of March, the European Medicines Agency finally finished investigating the vaccine and confirmed that it is safe and effective (EU regulator declares AstraZeneca vaccine “safe and effective” - BBC News, 2021).
Which countries temporarily suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine and why?
This week Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania suspended the use of the COVID-19 vaccine because a few people had developed blood clots after receiving the jabs. Following these countries, later Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain have also stopped the AstraZeneca vaccination for similar reasons (Why some countries have paused AstraZeneca vaccines - BBC News, 2021). Nevertheless, this data on the blood clot incidence is somewhat shaky and does not prove a causal relationship. Therefore, considering that the vaccine benefits outweigh any side effects of using the AstraZeneca jab, national response and vaccination suspensions are surprising.
Consequences of suspension
Temporary suspension causes the vaccine rollout to slow down, and at the same time, it reduces public trust and confidence about the vaccination process. This makes people even more hesitant about getting the jab and leads to a smaller amount of people getting vaccinated on the whole. Moreover, the suspension slows down the COVID-19 pandemic prevention targets, but, more importantly, it leads to an increase in the death toll and people developing long-term health consequences such as organ damage.
A public relation issue
The public was already reluctant to start receiving the first jabs back in January when the vaccination plans were initially kicked off all around Europe. The cause of such hesitation was based on some leaders in EU countries claiming that the vaccine might not be effective for the elderly or that the vaccine's protection does not last long enough. The general public seems to have taken such statements seriously, which has constructed a negative image of the newly developed vaccine. Moreover, since Norway started rolling out statements about the correlation between vaccines and blood clots, many other countries simply followed their example. As a result, it appears that the COVID-19 vaccine has an entrenched negative image of being ineffective, dangerous, and unreliable. However, given the announcement by the European Medicines Agency, this seems to be more an issue of bad PR as opposed to being a matter of science.
A Covid certificate aka travel passport?
On the 17th of March, this week, the European Commission proposed a digital green certificate to facilitate traveling within the EU for the upcoming Summer months.
What does this certificate do?
The certificate states the health status of its holder, whether the person either had the vaccination, has recently tested negative for COVID-19, or has tested positive and acquired antibodies (Press corner, 2021). In addition, this certificate is available either digitally or on paper. It is expected to facilitate traveling while ensuring safety during the pandemic (EU plans rollout of travel certificate before summer - BBC News, 2021).
What are the benefits of this?
In the light of the pandemic, the economy has been devastated and continues to deteriorate on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, tourism and airline industries have suffered the most due to the restricted movement of people and travel bans. However, if this certificate is activated and put in place this summer, it will allow people and their families to move around the EU more freely (correspondent, 2021). Furthermore, it will enable many EU countries to welcome tourists during summer, as people with the green certificate do not need to quarantine or isolate themselves. This would be great news for EU countries, especially those whose GDP depends mainly on tourism and related activities. In the long run, rebuilding tourism spaces would also slowly reactivate the economy.
Written by Heli Song, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons.