This post is part of a series on the AstraZeneca vaccine suspension in Europe:

The AstraZeneca Vaccine Will Save Lives

2021-03-16 • 3 min read

I don’t usually like to comment on current affairs as it makes me feel stressed to get my take out while it’s still newsworthy and before it has been swallowed by all the other takes out there, but I will make an exception today in order to register my discontent with recent decisions made by some leaders of European nations.

In the past couple of days, a large number of European nations have decided to suspend usage of the AstraZeneca vaccine after seeing cases of side effects such as blood clots. The reason is spelled out clearly. “The decision today is purely precautionary. It is a purely technical and not a political decision”, said Jens Spahn. “The decision is a precautionary measure”, said Anders Tegnell. This, of course, after months of delayed vaccination drives due to AstraZeneca’s own failure in delivering the expected quantities of doses. But in life you cannot manufacture a success by adding one failure to another.

These countries have ceased or paused administering the AstraZeneca vaccine so far:

These countries, to their credit, have decided to keep vaccinating:

This is so stupid. What are they talking about, “precautionary measure”? You are supposed to use precautionary measures in order to avoid death and other disasters. Well, guess what! Many hundreds of people are dying every day in Europe! The time for precaution was in spring of last year! Now the disaster is already here, engulfing our continent.

I am very sorry for those who have gotten blood clots and other vaccine side effects (if they are side effects), but their number is vanishingly small compared to the hundreds or thousands of people who will die for each day that we don’t vaccinate. Here is Alex Tabarrok on Twitter:

Pfizer, All UK spontaneous reports received between 9/12/20 and 28/02/21

  • Deep vein thrombosis 8
  • Pulmonary embolism 15
  • Thrombocytopenia 13

AZ, All UK spontaneous reports received between 4/01/21and 28/02/21

  • Deep vein thrombosis 14
  • Pulmonary embolism 13
  • Thrombocytopenia 12

As of 28 Feb, an estimated 10.7 million first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and 9.7 million doses of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine had been administered, and around 0.8 million second doses, mostly the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, had been administered.

That means the chance of getting one of these conditions after taking the AstraZeneca vaccine was 1 in 248,717 in the U.K. Meanwhile, during the last week alone in that country, 1 in 76,304 people died of Covid-19.[3]

$ bc <<< "9700000 / (14 + 13 + 12)"
$ bc <<< "68139984 / (190 + 181 + 175 + 121 + 52 + 64 + 110)"

The AstraZeneca vaccine seems to be about 57-86% effective. It has a number of advantages over its competitors: it’s cheaper, it’s not sold for profit and it’s much easier to store. But a vaccine isn’t just useful in that it protects the person who gets it. It’s also useful because it reduces population-level transmission rates. It gets us closer to herd immunity. The virus has shown that it won’t leave Europe on its own, no matter how long lockdowns carry on. The EMA realises this and states:

While its investigation is ongoing, EMA currently remains of the view that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19, with its associated risk of hospitalisation and death, outweigh the risks of side effects.

Let me finish by making some predictions. By 1 July 2021,

  1. the expert consensus will be that continuing with the AstraZeneca vaccinations would have saved more lives than pausing it ⇒ 95%
  2. a majority of the listed countries will have resumed administering the AstraZeneca vaccine ⇒ 90%.
  3. the FDA will have approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the U.S. ⇒ 95%
  4. at least one elected official from one of the listed countries will have admitted that it was a mistake to suspend vaccinations ⇒ 70%

This is all so draining. I am European. I love Europe. But this is a frustrating mess.

Footnotes #

  1. My source here and below is Die Zeit. Belgium’s health minister has spoken out in favour of continuing vaccination, so I added it to the list of the praiseworthy. ↩︎

  2. ibid. ↩︎

  3. My source here is Worldometer 1 and 2. ↩︎