EU President would take the Astrazeneca vaccine Germans are rejecting

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Berlin: The European Union’s president said she would happily receive AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine as officials rushed to find ways of ensuring doses refused by skittish Germans did not go to waste.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen volunteered for the jab amid growing concerns that unfavourable comments by top European officials including French President Emmanuel Macron had slowed take-up of one of only three vaccines currently approved EU-wide.

Earlier this month, Macron said Britain had taken a risk in authorising AstraZeneca so rapidly. A German official study also found evidence that, though effective, the vaccine has more severe side effects than its two main rivals.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says she would take the AstraZeneca dose. Credit:AFP

“I would take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought, just like Moderna’s and BioNTech/Pfizer’s products,” von der Leyen told the Augsburger Allgemeine.

The endorsement is all the more striking coming a month after the European Commission that she heads entered into sharp correspondence with AstraZeneca over suggestions, denied by the company, that the British-Swedish company had prioritised delivery to Britain over the EU.

The Commission has been criticised over the slow pace of vaccination across the 27-member-bloc, with critics saying it failed to secure sufficient early supply of the vaccines that leaders are banking on to bring an end to the pandemic that has devastated the continent’s economy.

AstraZeneca Plc has told the European Union it expects to deliver less than half the COVID-19 vaccines it was contracted to supply in the second quarter, an EU official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Contacted by Reuters, AstraZeneca did not deny what the official said, but a statement late in the day said the company was striving to increase productivity to deliver the promised 180 million doses.

The expected shortfall follows a big reduction in supplies in the first quarter and could hit the EU’s ability to meet its target of vaccinating 70 per cent of adults by summer.

In Germany, where a widespread preference for the German-designed Pfizer vaccine has meant a growing number of unused AstraZeneca doses now sit unused, officials and politicians have suggested many ways of ensuring they did not go to waste.

Berlin’s Social Affairs Senator Elke Breitenbach said unused doses should be given to the 3000 homeless living in the city’s emergency accommodation.

As schools and kindergartens start to reopen from a lockdown imposed in November, federal and state health ministers on Monday reworked vaccination rules so that teachers could get priority access to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“Children, the young, and their parents are especially affected by lockdown,” they said in a document seen by Reuters. “Since it can be hard to ensure social distancing with young children, teachers must be protected in another way.”

Health Minister Jens Spahn has also requested that the AstraZeneca shot be given to the police force and army, after some health and other frontline workers baulked at receiving it.



German leaders have launched a public relations push to reassure the public that the AstraZeneca shot, developed at Britain’s Oxford University, works.

“The vaccine from AstraZeneca is both safe and highly effective,” Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief spokesman, tweeted on Monday. “The vaccine can save lives.”

AstraZeneca says that reported side effects – headaches and pains – are in line with observations from its clinical trials and independent studies have found the effects to be short-term.

Germany has administered 5 million vaccine doses so far, or around six for every 100 residents, putting it well behind countries like Israel, Britain or the United States that have more aggressive campaigns.

Most are of the Pfizer vaccine, which was developed by Germany’s BioNTech, and have been given so far to the elderly and infirm.

Of the 1.5 million AstraZeneca shots due to have been delivered by the end of last week, only 187,000 have been used so far, according to figures from the health ministry and Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

While coronavirus cases have fallen in recent weeks, the rate of decline has slowed with the seven-day incidence rate hovering at around 60 cases per 100,000.

Reuters

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