But the rollout has been plagued by problems, including questions about misleading data and unanswered deliveries that overshadowed public perception of AstraZeneca as other vaccines drove forward.
This week, renewed concerns about rare but serious blood clots among those who have received the vaccine were bolstered by Europe’s largest drug agency. The European Medicines Agency said on Wednesday that it was “plausible” that the blood clots were linked to the vaccine, but also “stressed that the benefits of vaccination still outweigh the risks,” my colleagues reported.
Nonetheless, the latest news from Europe will travel far beyond the continent’s borders – and AstraZeneca’s misery is likely to have an excessive global impact.
Unlike many of its peers, the vaccine is relatively cheap and easy to administer. And crucially, it makes up a large part of the supplies planned for Covax, a global vaccine initiative linked to the World Health Organization that aims to secure supplies to lower middle- and low-income countries.
Research published last month of the Think Global Health program from the Council on Foreign Relations found that AstraZeneca was expected to account for nearly 50 percent of the global vaccine supply in low-income countries and one-third of the vaccine supply in low-income countries.
This distortion for receiving AstraZeneca doses contrasts with the concomitant concerns about its safety. A number of European countries had already made changes to their vaccination programs before the EMA’s announcement, in which Denmark and Norway stopped using the vaccine completely.
Italy announced on Wednesday that it would recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine only for those over 60 years of agefollowing similar recent movements in France and Germany.
Although blood clots were rare, the EMA said they perred to be more severe in younger people, with most reported cases in women under 60 years of age.
But as some nations buzz with the vaccine, others are struggling to get their doses. So far, there is no sign that AstraZeneca’s problems will dampen demand for it in many corners of the world. Yet export controls, like those introduced last month by the Indian government following an increase in domestic affairs, pose a problem.
Amid a catastrophic increase in cases last month, the Indian government imposed restrictions on the export of vaccines. The move hit the Pune-based Serum Institute, the world’s largest producer by volume of producing the Oxford-developed vaccine under an agreement with AstraZeneca.
India, which has been generous with vaccine donations to poorer neighbors, has pushed back on media descriptions of an export ban. “We should not call it downscaling,” VK Paul, a top health worker in India, told the Washington Post last week, admitting there would be “some slowing down” but suggesting it would be resolved in weeks .
Najwa Mekki, a spokesman for UNICEF, said last week that Covax had so far received only 28 million AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute of the 90 million it expected in March and ril, but that it was expected that normal exports would resumes in May.