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Covid in Europe: Vaccine suspension hits rollout as cases rise

Several European countries are experiencing a new surge in coronavirus infections, while a number have also suspended use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine over safety concerns.

The European Medicines Agency is standing by its decision to approve the vaccine and has reiterated there is “no indication” the jab causes blood clots. It is investigating further and its results are due to be released on Thursday.

Correspondents in six cities explain how Europeans are reacting to the new wave of infections and the stuttering rollout.


Vaccinations 857,792 |14.81 doses per 100 people | Increase in cases compared with last week +2,484

Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution, followed by Norway and Iceland. It is yet another blow to its vaccine plans, writes Adrienne Murray in Copenhagen.

About 1 in 10 people here have now received at least one vaccine dose, a quarter of which were supplied by AstraZeneca.

All adults were expected to be vaccinated by the end of June, but delivery delays have seen that target pushed back a number of times. Health authorities on Wednesday suggested the end of July.

Danes have expressed disappointment about the rollout on Twitter. “It’s simply going too slow,” writes Lone Juul Lang. But most have supported the government’s handling of coronavirus and a survey in January revealed that almost nine out of 10 Danes want to be vaccinated.

Since the new year, infections have fallen sharply and Denmark is slowly emerging from a second lockdown. But signs of fatigue are beginning to show. Anti-lockdown protests have recently been held in some Danish cities and there’s political pressure to do more.

However, concerns about new variants of coronavirus, have made the government hesitant to open up faster.

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Vaccinations 7,552,120 | 11.19 doses per 100 people | Increase in cases compared with last week +25,912

After an unpromising start, the AstraZeneca jab has come to hold a key place in France’s inoculation programme, but a new poll on public confidence is not reassuring, writes Hugh Schofield in Paris.

It’s the worst anniversary that Emmanuel Macron can have imagined, says Nicolas Beytout, editor of France’s L’Opinion newspaper.

Exactly a year ago the president announced the first lockdown and said France was “at war” with the virus. But now his strategy has been knocked dangerously off course by the suspension of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

In recent weeks the AstraZeneca jab has overtaken Pfizer/BioNTech in the number of doses delivered.

But if people turn away from AstraZeneca, waiting for new vaccines like Johnson and Johnson, then Mr Macron’s calculations go awry. The sweet moment when immunity starts biting is postponed, leading to lockdowns and public anger.

According to an Elabe survey conducted just as the suspension was announced, only 20% of the French have confidence in AstraZeneca. For Pfizer/BioNTech, the figure is 52%.


Vaccinations 9,853,966 | 11.76 doses per 100 people | Increase in cases compared to last week +23,889

Coronavirus infections are spreading fast again in Germany and there’s already growing dissatisfaction over a slow vaccine rollout, writes Jenny Hill in Berlin.

“We wonder now when we will ever be vaccinated?” says kindergarten worker Tanya.

Just 8% of the German population has received a first jab in a country which, most experts agree, is firmly in the grip of a third wave.

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Germany has relied largely on Pfizer/BioNTech, but ministers need AstraZeneca if they’re to keep their promises and speed things up.

So the decision to suspend the jab has caused dismay, anger and concern.

Not least because, even in a country that is broadly open to vaccination, AstraZeneca has a bit of an image problem; in part, because the government initially blocked its use in older age groups.

Ministers argue now, as then, that they’re acting to create public trust. Many here would say they’ve had the opposite effect – undermining faith not just in the vaccine but, in an election year, the government itself.


Vaccinations 4,557,060 | 12.04 doses per 100 people | Increase in cases compared to last week +29,557

In Poland, new infections are rising at an alarming rate as the country’s third wave continues to gather momentum, writes Adam Easton in Warsaw.

In response to the health ministry’s latest tweet about the number of new cases, which rose by 45% compared with a week earlier, some wanted tougher restrictions.

“In Germany, a hard lockdown, in Poland indignation that you can’t go to the pub in the evening,” writes @JMojzych, adding that there is a higher rate of infection here than in Germany.

In terms of the vaccination rollout, Poland has just fallen out of the top 10 EU countries with the highest rate of administering jabs. A recent opinion poll found that 53.1% of respondents agreed the EU had failed to provide sufficient vaccines to member states.

Unlike many EU countries, Poland is continuing to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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But people questioning, or deferring their AstraZeneca jab has become “a noticeable phenomenon”, Prof Agniezka Mastalerz-Migas, from Wroclaw Medical University, told broadcaster TVN24 .


Vaccinations 7,039,518 | 11.64 doses per 100 people | Increase in cases compared to last week +12,018

The timing could hardly have been worse for Italy, writes Mark Lowen in Milan.

On the day that most of Italy entered another lockdown and new vaccine sites opened to ramp up rollout, they were abruptly shut again with the AstraZeneca suspension – and those waiting for their longed-for panacea were turned away.

It’s fodder for Italy’s Eurosceptics.

“Another failure by Europe,” cried Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League. He adds that he hoped the Sputnik V vaccine would arrive soon – a comment not lost on those noting Mr Salvini’s pro-Russia sympathies.

At a Pfizer vaccination centre in Milan, most seem unfazed.

“If my mother had got AstraZeneca today, not Pfizer, it would be the same,” says Elena Grazena. “I trust the science.”

Maria Polizzi tells me she is a little worried by the suspension. “Luckily AstraZeneca wasn’t the vaccine I got,” she says. “It’s right they’re suspending until they investigate.”

Amid a third wave and frustration at a slow vaccine rollout, it’s as though this exhausted country has been kicked while it’s down.

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Vaccinations 1,079,144 | 11.98 doses per 100 people | Increase in cases compared to last week +1,876

In Austria, there are mixed feelings about AstraZeneca, writes Bethany Bell in Vienna.

On one of Vienna’s main shopping streets, I meet Angelika, who tells me she is relieved to have had her first jab of AstraZeneca last week.

“I’m really happy and glad to have it because I’m a teacher,” she tells me. “I feel great. It was fine.” She says it is much better to be inoculated than to get a bad case of Covid-19.

Austria halted one batch of the vaccine last week, while they investigate the death of a nurse who died several days after being inoculated.

But vaccinations with AstraZeneca continue.

Austria’s health minister Rudolf Anschober has called for a swift European solution, instead of individual national decisions.

Everyone will have to make up their own minds, says Angelika. “I think we take a lot of other medicines where we don’t know what’s inside.”

Another shopper, Manfred is more suspicious.

“In general, I am pro-vaccination,” he tells me. But he says he won’t take AstraZeneca at the moment, “because of the serious adverse events. I’m a bit scared to get ill from the vaccine”.

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He says he might change his mind if the studies are okay.

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