Ursula Von Der Leyen, President of the European Commission

2021 has been a frustrating year for the European Union. What was at first an uncontainable excitement at the news of Covid-19 vaccines has quickly died down to a frustrated, cynical, and fearful attitude towards our current state of affairs. Indeed, immediate signs of trouble arose with the dreadfully slow speed at which the EU approved many of the most well-known vaccines available today. This unbearably sluggish approach put the EU months behind the United Kingdom and the United States’ vaccination process, leaving us anxiously stranded on the starting line when other nations had already started sprinting. The problem? This would not prove to be the last time that the EU’s overly cautious approach would cost it months of progress.

On March 11th, a domino effect of mass hysteria dealt a near-fatal blow to the EU’s already soaring blood pressure. That was the day when, following reports of a woman dying of blood clotting after receiving an AstraZeneca vaccine, Denmark decided to suspend its use of the vaccine until its safety was assured. Italy, France, Germany and Spain quickly followed suit, and soon enough quite an agglomeration of nations had decided to take a stand against one of humanity’s only hopes of regaining normalcy. The national government of Spain assured media outlets that this measure was only precautionary, ensuring that their show of concern would reassure the population that they were still in their caring hands. Indeed, the sudden decision to suspend the use of AstraZeneca brought as much reassurance to the population as the blow of a construction hammer to the guts. What was no more than a few dozen cases of blood-clotting amongst millions of successful inoculations caused a frenzy that has rippled throughout the entire European Union to this day.

The European Medicines Agency and the Wealth Health Organization were left scratching their heads and pleading those governments to consider the extreme unlikelihood of side-effects. In what has now become their staple response to a crisis, these governments instead made the second mistake of deciding to wait until a thorough, costly, and timely investigation revealed what was already known from the first day: cases of side-effects are minuscule compared to the amount of successful vaccinations, and offer no reason to provoke fear or hesitation at the thought of receiving one.

Proponents of the “safety first” approach might be tempted to insist that a guarantee of safety must take precedence over the rush to vaccinate the entire population. After all, isn’t the point of these vaccines to prevent deaths in the first place? What seems like a perfectly reasonable argument soon pales when confronted with the official figures of AstraZeneca’s side-effects. According to the EMA, as of March 18, 2021, only 0.00129% of all 20 million AstraZeneca vaccines administered so far had resulted in severe blood clotting. 

With such ludicrous numbers, you are more likely to die from tripping over on your way to your vaccination appointment than by the actual needle itself. What was a de facto completely useless delay was therefore put behind and the rollout of AstraZeneca vaccines continued. This is to say, the first inkling of a relationship between blood-clotting and AstraZeneca vaccines was finally confirmed by the EMA, which was enough to provoke the already-jumpy government of Castilla y León to suspend AstraZeneca vaccines on April 7th, without even prior warning to the thousands of people who dutifully showed up for their appointments that morning.

The effects of this decision cannot be understated. Various Spanish cities are reporting that widespread fear has caused many to skip their vaccination appointments entirely. According to reports from the government of Madrid, last Thursday a meagre one-third of those called upon to get AstraZeneca vaccines actually showed up to their corresponding hospitals. The distrust that the government’s actions have created may very well be catastrophic, and the nation’s objective to fully vaccinate 70% of the population by the end of summer seems more and more like a distant promise.

The time to air on the side of caution is very much behind us. With the WHO and EMA’s reassurances about minimal side-effect risks, what the European Union needs now is strong decisive action. Trust in the organizations who’ve devoted months of thorough research to the approval of vaccines is absolutely essential, and the use of AstraZeneca must go on at full speed. The EU can no longer afford further delays or fickle leadership, and must bravely push forward if we are to avoid more COVID deaths and an increasingly crippled economy.

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