AstraZeneca, the unloved vaccine

“AstraZeneca? I don’t want it!” Doctors and managers of vaccination centers across France are alarmed by the mistrust, even fear that is mounting towards this anti-Covid-19 vaccine, fueled by the very rare side effects that it can cause.

“People tell us that they are afraid, afraid of dying, of having an adverse effect,” Dr Thierry Mraovic told AFP.

The Easter weekend, the vaccination center that it coordinates in Gravelines (North) “made only 132 injections” with this vaccine reserved for over 55s, for 750 available doses.

“People had appointments, they left when they saw it was Astra, saying ‘I don’t want it’. The Dunkirk center tried to send us people eligible for AstraZeneca, no one did not come “, he sighs, stressing that the doses were not lost but” returned to the hospital pharmacy “.

“My patients refuse AstraZeneca”, confirms Didier Legeais, surgeon-urologist also responsible for a vaccination center for caregivers in Grenoble.

“They phone to say that they want Pfizer, they postpone or cancel their appointments at the last moment. So inevitably, we risk having doses of AstraZeneca on the arms”, fears Dr. Legeais, vice-president of the Isère doctors’ union.

This disaffection for one of the four vaccines authorized in Europe comes at the wrong time for the French vaccination campaign.

– “Pedagogy” –

Long accused of being too slow, the campaign must accelerate in April, with the delivery of 12 million doses of all vaccines, including 3 million AstraZeneca, according to figures from the Ministry of Health.

“Of course we have fears around a mistrust that could set in”, we recognize in the entourage of Prime Minister Jean Castex, before putting into perspective: “It is difficult to assess the consequences. But a priori, there is no need to have concerns about the fact that we are not meeting our objectives “.

“There is a very sound speech around a mistrust that would settle, and a reality on the ground, figures”, we want to believe in the Ministry of Health.

“Last week we made 400,000 AstraZeneca vaccinations. Health professionals have placed very large orders for vaccines, nearly 1.5 million arrived last week,” the same source continues.

“It is important to be able to reassure people about the vaccine, not because we absolutely want to refurbish it, but because AstraZeneca effectively protects against serious forms, almost as much as Moderna and Pfizer”, we conclude at ministry.

“You are in the best position to overcome reluctance, to explain to your own patients and convince them,” Mr. Castex assured a doctor on Thursday, visiting a vaccination center in Nogent-sur-Marne, near Paris.

In his entourage, one insists on the need “of pedagogy, of explanations after so many twists in the course of this vaccine”.

Twists and turns that may have disconcerted the general public.

On February 2, just after its authorization, AstraZeneca was initially reserved for those under 65, for lack of data on its effectiveness in the elderly. A month later, its use is extended to all ages.

– Benefits –

Then, in mid-March, the vaccine was suspended a few days after reports in Europe of very rare and very atypical thromboses (blood clots). The European Medicines Agency (EMA) acknowledged on Wednesday that they were well linked to AstraZeneca.

In the meantime, France decides on March 19 to inject this vaccine only to people over 55 years old, because these thromboses have mainly been observed in younger subjects. Health officials have still not announced what will happen to those under 55 who had their first injection.

Other countries have also set age limits, but without necessarily choosing the same one, which can lead to confusion. AstraZeneca is for example reserved for people over 30 in the UK, 60 in Germany or 65 in Sweden.

For Yannick Frezet, general practitioner in Rive de Gier (Loire), the suspension in mid-March was a turning point.

“From that moment it was a general and total distrust”, says Dr Frezet, vice-president of URPS (Regional Union of health professionals).

“Before, I had 50 requests for 10 doses and now I have to call the patients to do some teaching. I take the time to explain to them that the benefit of this vaccine is more important than the risk”, continues- he.

This is also what the EMA and the WHO (World Health Organization) insist on: they have hammered in recent weeks that the risks of hospitalization or death caused by Covid far exceed that of side effects. from AstraZeneca.

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