Europe divided over two vaccines: AstraZeneca and Sputnik V

Dave Lawler
·3 min read

Long-awaited data from the Oxford/AstraZeneca U.S. trial suggests the vaccine is safe, 79% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19, and fully effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths.

Yes, but: The suspension of the vaccine in at least 13 countries due to blood-clotting concerns has severely damaged the shot’s reputation in Europe, with majorities in France (61%), Germany (55%) and elsewhere now deeming it unsafe, according to a YouGov poll.

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Driving the news: The rollout has resumed in most of Europe (Nordic countries are holding off), but it’s unclear how successful it can be when so few people appear prepared to take it.

  • It could be even more damaging if that lack of faith spreads to developing countries, where AstraZeneca's vaccine is the most widely available option.

The state of play: Leaders in Brussels are currently more worried about supply than demand. They’re considering blocking some exports to the U.K. on the grounds that the U.K. is importing doses produced on the continent but not reciprocating.

  • U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is lobbying his EU counterparts against a potential ban, and Pfizer has warned that banning exports could weaken supply chains.

Between the lines: The U.K. signed a contract with AstraZeneca that called for doses produced in Britain to stay there, much as the U.S. did with several drugmakers.

  • The EU, meanwhile, is exporting around 40% of the doses it produces, with the U.K. receiving the most.

What to watch: Brussels’ emphasis on “equitable distribution” is fading amid a brutally slow rollout and rising case counts.

  • Not only are export bans under consideration, but European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Sunday that plans to donate doses to poorer countries are on hold until the EU’s domestic picture improves.

The supply shortfalls in Europe have led to a debate over another somewhat controversial vaccine: Russia's Sputnik V.

  • Why it matters: The latest data suggests the vaccine is safe and highly effective, and Russia wants to sell it all over the world — particularly within the EU. Several member states want to buy it, and some are prepared to help produce it.

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she'd be willing to go it alone to order Sputnik V if approved by regulators even if there was no common European decision on using it.

The big picture: Having an effective state-funded vaccine could be a diplomatic coup for Moscow, but Russia lags behind the other major players in terms of manufacturing capacity and so is working to cut production deals around the world.

What they're saying: “We have absolutely no need of Sputnik V,” Thierry Breton, the head of the EU's vaccine task force said on Sunday.

  • He argued that the bloc was on pace to have sufficient capacity by the end of June using EU-made vaccines — likely long before enough Sputnik V would be available to make a meaningful difference.

  • The other side: The vaccine's developers called Breton "clearly biased against the Sputnik V vaccine just because it is Russian,” adding, “Biases lead to failures. And Breton’s failures are clear to many people in EU."

The latest: Meanwhile in Slovakia, Prime Minister Igor Matovic has said he's prepared to resign after announcing the purchase of Sputnik doses without the backing of his coalition partners.

Go deeper: Biden's vaccine diplomacy challenge.

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