BERLIN — Suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine is a major blow for Germany's vaccination program. Over the past few weeks, AstraZeneca made up around 40% of vaccines administered in the country.
The vaccination program was already rolling out very slowly, and now the brakes are being slammed on. The promise of every adult being offered at least a first dose of the vaccine before the end of summer is beginning to look quite doubtful indeed.
Even if Germany starts offering the AstraZeneca vaccine again soon, the population may still be reluctant to receive it. But vaccines are our only way out of the pandemic. The collateral damage of suspending use of this specific vaccine could be huge.
The vaccination program was already rolling out very slowly, and now the brakes are being slammed on.
The decision to halt all use of the AstraZeneca vaccine will prove to be a grave mistake, with serious consequences. So far in Germany, there have been seven reported cases of blood clots in the brain identified in patients who had received the vaccine.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has reported 41 cases of blood clots among the more than five million people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine. Even if this number is higher than it should be, the risk is still only 0.0008%.
Many other medicines come with significantly higher risks. If every German citizen received the AstraZeneca vaccine — which won't be the case — we would expect to see at most 650 people experiencing complications. If 30 to 40% of the population received it, it would be between 200 and 260 cases.
The risk of unvaccinated people contracting coronavirus and becoming seriously ill is far higher. In the past seven days alone, there have been 110,000 new infections reported in Germany.
If only 1% of infections are fatal, that would still be more than 1,000 people — and that's only one week's worth of infections. With the threat of a third wave fast approaching, it's unthinkable to allow these very low risks to slow down the vaccination program.
There's no reason to make everyone wait.
To salvage what we can, the German government should now make it possible for anyone who wishes to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine to do so. I personally would be first in line.
Anyone who would prefer to wait for a different vaccine and run the risk of being infected with coronavirus can do so. But there's no reason to make everyone wait. In fact, it's negligent, given the risk of a third wave.
Without the AstraZeneca vaccine, we may see fewer blood clots, but we will certainly see many more deaths from coronavirus, to say nothing of the continuing restrictions imposed on our basic freedoms and everyday life.
*Justus Haucap is director of the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics (DICE) and a member of the Kronberg Circle. From 2008 to 2012 he was chair of the German Monopoly Commission.
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