PARIS – First, the French President suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine was “virtually ineffective” in protecting the elderly from COVID-19. Now Emmanuel Macron’s government is asking people to take it.

Germany is in a similar situation.

Berlin changed its cautious policy this week after an independent vaccine panel stated that the AstraZeneca shots should be used on people over 65 years of age. Top German officials spoke out on Friday against “shopping for vaccines” and urged people to avail themselves of the potential protection that is offered to them.

Mixed messaging has left many people in both countries confused or suspicious of government instructions on the AstraZeneca sting. Meanwhile, infections in Europe are recovering and other people across the continent and around the world are demanding access to every COVID-19 vaccine they can get.

European governments’ initial hesitation about AstraZeneca’s vaccine was based on limited data on whether it would work in people over 65. New data on its effectiveness – and pressure to accelerate the slow roll-out of vaccines in the EU and use unused AstraZeneca doses – prompted health officials in several European countries to reverse course this week and allow its use for all ages.

In France, anyone who works with the sick or the elderly is entitled to the AstraZeneca vaccine for weeks – but only 30% have taken it so far. Some have argued that they want a Pfizer BioNTech or Moderna vaccine instead, which is currently only available in France for the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran sent a letter to all health workers on Friday asking them to get vaccinated. And if that doesn’t work, he said he could set up a special ethics committee to consider whether they need to do this.

“That (30%) is clearly not enough,” Veran said at a press conference on Thursday evening. While paying homage to health workers, he said, “If you are a medical professional, it is your responsibility to … protect yourself and your patients.”

At his side a family doctor repeated the request. “I appeal to my colleagues: Please come and have yourself vaccinated,” said Dr. Marie-Laure Alby, noting that her patients are eager to get vaccinated.

The head of the German epidemic control authority asked people on Friday to get vaccinated when they got the chance. Comments from Robert Koch Institute’s President Lothar Wieler came amid reports that many in the country rejected the AstraZeneca shot over concerns that it may not work as well as others.

“If you are offered a vaccine, please get vaccinated. They are safe and effective, ”said Wieler, adding that vaccinating large numbers of people is“ the way out of the pandemic ”.

Manufactured by the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca, the vaccine is one of three vaccines approved for use in the European Union of 27 states, although it has not yet received a green light from US regulators. EU countries also give Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines – and French nurse Michele Freret said she would prefer one of them.

“If they vaccinate us with AstraZeneca and it is not as effective as Pfizer or others, we will get COVID and there will be no medical staff to look after the people I care for,” she told The Associated Press.

She is concerned about the virus – “I keep testing myself” – and the doctors and nurses who lost their lives fighting the virus. But she said that she and some colleagues agree that the government is trying to get rid of additional AstraZeneca vaccines by imposing them on medical staff.

France, which is among the highest coronavirus tolls in Europe with more than 87,000 deaths, had used just 25% of the 1.6 million AstraZeneca vaccines it received as of Tuesday. Restrictive rules and a rush of deliveries left Germany with a supply of more than 2 million AstraZeneca cans this week.

France’s skeptics often reiterated a comment from Macron over the past month when he told reporters, “The real problem with AstraZeneca is that it doesn’t work as we expected. Today all indications are that it is virtually ineffective for the elderly than 65. ”Hours after he spoke, the European Medicines Agency approved the vaccine’s use for all ages, but the damage to its image had been done.

Some also cite confusing early data on AstraZeneca’s effectiveness or ask whether it will work against new virus variants. The company is working on a new version to respond to evolving variants.

European efforts to restore the vaccine’s reputation are due to the fact that new infections rose 9% across the continent over the past week, halting the six-week decline.


Rising contributed from Berlin.


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Angela Charlton and Dave Rising, The Associated Press