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BY MARCH 17, 2021

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed in partnership with the University of Oxford, was designed to be the workhorse of the global vaccination effort, with some two billion doses ordered for use in more than 70 countries this year.  

The European Union’s biggest countries, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, causing the continent’s top drug regulator to push back against fears about the shot, saying there was no sign of its causing rare but dangerous problems, and convincing evidence that its lifesaving benefits “outweigh the risk of the side effects.”  Executive Director of the European Medicines Agency, Ms. Emer Cooke reassured the world of the vaccine’s safety,  a day after the countries mentioned above halted use of the vaccine, even as Europe faces a third wave of the virus, hundreds of millions of its people are still constrained by severe pandemic restrictions with the expectation of rules tightening even more. 

The vaccine suspensions were a startling turnaround after government officials had spent days guaranteeing the public of the vaccine’s safety. After Germany indicated that it would put the shots on hold, others quickly followed, wanting to present a united front. 

Concerns about possible rare side effects like blood clots and abnormal bleeding have rattled confidence in the vaccine and delayed the already slow and troubled vaccination campaign in Europe. No country in the European Union is on the path to reach its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of its population by September 2021. 

The European Medicines Agency was still studying concerns about the ill effects reported in a small number of people who received the AstraZeneca shot, but there was “no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions,” Ms. Cooke said on Tuesday at a news conference. 

“While the investigation is ongoing, we are currently still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing Covid-19, with its associated risk of hospitalization, outweigh the risk of the side effects,” she added. Clotting problems are common in the general population, and health authorities suspect that the small number of cases reported in vaccine recipients are most likely coincidental. 

The European Union’s vaccination efforts have been hindered by political infighting, a supply shortage, and a lack of solidarity. And with many countries heavily reliant on the AstraZeneca vaccine, the decision by some to suspend its use while the bloc’s regulatory body investigates safety concerns will slow things down even more. 

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