Science vs skeptics: some in France struggle to trust in AstraZeneca shot
PARIS, March 24 (Reuters) - Brigitte Becker knows that her asthma leaves her vulnerable to COVID-19, but brief suspensions of the AstraZeneca vaccine in some countries over a small number of blood-clotting cases have deepened her resolve to await a different shot.
"Some say the vaccine leads to thrombosis, that it's rare but that it can happen," the 59-year-old nursery minder said. "I'd rather hold out."
Millions of doses of the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) shot have been safely administered around the world and the EU's medicines watchdog has reaffirmed it safe for all ages, prompting most of the states which briefly halted it to resume giving the jab.
Breaking from this guidance however, France's health regulator said only those over 55 should for now receive the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Becker said she would not hesitate to get vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech (PFE.N), (22UAy.DE) shot or Moderna's (MRNA.O) vaccine. But France is not offering either to her age group.
Those in France who do not trust the Anglo-Swedish shot cite concerns about the speed of development and possible side effects. Remarks by President Emmanuel Macron in early February that it was "quasi-ineffective" for people of retirement age did little to reassure.
Macron later said he would have the AstraZeneca jab himself if offered it.
Regulators around the world have repeatedly said speed will not compromise safety and vaccine developers have said they will not cut corners in testing for safety and efficacy.
The quicker results have stemmed from conducting parallel trials that are usually done in sequence and can take years.
Trials for Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots have shown only temporary side-effects.
"We're completely lost. We don't know who to believe," said Becker.
CORNERSTONE OF VACCINE STRATEGY
AstraZeneca says its vaccine is safe and effective. Citing phase 3 U.S. trial data on Monday, it said no increased risk of thrombosis had been identified.
Like other wealthy countries, France has made the AstraZeneca shot a pillar of its vaccine rollout. But its faltering campaign has been slowed by bureaucracy, public mistrust and Europe-wide supply delays.
With all the big vaccine makers experiencing production problems, France cannot afford for people to snub the AstraZeneca shot.
A government spokesman said on Tuesday the COVID-19 situation was worsening across the country. The number of patients in intensive care with the virus has risen to its highest this year. read more
New restrictions closing non-essential retail and limiting how far people can travel came into effect in Paris and some other regions last week and could be introduced elsewhere.
A YouGov poll published this week showed the suspensions had damaged confidence in the vaccine's safety in France and elsewhere in Europe. In France, 61% of respondents considered the AstraZeneca shot unsafe compared with 43% in late February.
A French health ministry official said more time was needed to tell if the suspension had really hurt public confidence.
Doubts still linger in the mind of Chrystel Geoffrey, an administrative clerk in the town hall of Rueil Malmaison, a Paris suburb. Aged 41 and in good health, her turn for the vaccine won't come until the summer.
"I still don't know if I will accept AstraZeneca or not," she said, adding that she would have not qualms receiving the Pfizer vaccine. "There hasn't been the same negative or anxiety-inducing feedback surrounding that vaccine."
General practitioner Anne Pailliez said she had not received any cancellations for the AstraZeneca shot, though limited supplies meant those who had come forward so far tended to be keen to get inoculated.
However, difficulties might arise when the target groups were widened further, she said.
"I see some patients grimace when we tell them they'll have to have AstraZeneca," she said. "Persuading them might be tricky."
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