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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 4 March 2021

Mistrust of Oxford-AstraZeneca shot sees Tegel airport stand empty

Scepticism in Europe about the vaccine is contradicted by positive UK data

An airport in Berlin, mothballed and converted into a vaccination centre late last year, has been pictured empty as people stayed away amid public scepticism over the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

Tegel airport has come to symbolise the EU's faltering vaccination efforts.

The Oxford vaccine has met resistance in Germany and other European countries after trials initially showed it to be less effective than the Pfizer and Moderna alternatives. In the past few weeks, vaccination centres across Madrid, Brussels and Paris have also been pictured empty because of cancelled appointments and low supplies.

At the end of January, President Emmanuel Macron raised doubts about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s benefits for the elderly, saying it was “almost ineffective” for those 65 and older. In addition, some frontline health workers in France and Germany reportedly declined to take it.

However, those fears now appear unfounded after positive new data emerged from the UK. A study led by the University of Edinburgh found the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine reduced the risk of hospital admissions by 94 per cent after just one dose.

The preliminary findings were based on a comparison of people who had received one dose of vaccine and those who had not been inoculated. The data was gathered between Dec. 8 and Feb. 15, a period when 21 per cent of Scotland’s population received their first vaccine shot.

“These results are very encouraging and have given us great reasons to be optimistic for the future,’’ said Professor Aziz Sheikh, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute. “We now have national evidence — across an entire country — that vaccination provides protection against Covid-19 hospitalisations.”

Germany has administered 5 million vaccine doses so far, or around six for every 100 residents. Most were of the Pfizer vaccine, which was jointly developed with Germany's BioNTech, and they have been given to the elderly and most clinically vulnerable.

Of the 1.5 million AstraZeneca shots due to have been delivered by the end of last week, only 187,000 have been used so far, according to figures from the health ministry and the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.

Anecdotal reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine causes stronger side effects than other vaccines were confirmed by Germany's top vaccines agency, the Paul Ehrlich Institute.

It found that nearly a quarter of people receiving the AstraZeneca shot experienced flu-like symptoms, and about 15 per cent experienced shivers or fever - more than the side effects reported from the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.

However, AstraZeneca said that the reported side effects were in line with observations from its clinical trials, and the Paul Ehrlich Institute called the vaccine highly effective and described reactions to it as short-lived.

German political figures have now launched a public relations push to try to reassure the public that the AstraZeneca shot works. Health Minister Jens Spahn said on public television that he would be happy to take the AstraZeneca vaccine.

"The vaccine from AstraZeneca is both safe and highly effective," Steffen Seibert, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief spokesman, wrote on Twitter on Monday. "The vaccine can save lives."

Updated: February 23, 2021 06:03 PM

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