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VACCINES

EU launches ‘vaccine tracker’ and shifts strategy away from AstraZeneca

The EU's disease agency has launched a Covid-19 vaccine tracking tool, providing an overview of countries' efforts in the rollout of inoculations across Europe. It came as the EU Commission said it was shifting its strategy away from relying on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

EU launches 'vaccine tracker' and shifts strategy away from AstraZeneca
Photo: Ishara S Kodikara/AFP and ECDC (edited by The Local)

The first set of data was available on the website of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), covering the 27-nation bloc plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. 

However it was still incomplete on Monday, as some countries, such as France had yet to report their national data. Member states are expected to report their numbers twice a week.

As a result, the tracker indicated the number of vaccine doses administered in its member states as of Monday was 8.23 million, though in reality the number is much higher.

(Not all countries had uploaded their data as February 2nd. )

According to AFP's own database compiled from official sources, by 1600 GMT Monday, at least 12.6 million doses have been administered to 10.5 million people in the EU, representing 2.3 percent of the population.

“In this early phase of vaccination campaigns, monitoring the number of doses distributed to countries and doses received by individuals provides useful insights into the progress of vaccine deployment and the evolution of vaccination campaigns,” the ECDC said in a statement.

“It also provides initial indicative estimates of vaccine uptake for the first and second dose per population targeted by vaccine recommendations on the national level.”

ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said: “It is with great pleasure that we launch the Vaccine Tracker that provides a near-live view on vaccination progress in Europe. Vaccination campaigns are not to be viewed merely as a race for the largest numbers at the quickest speed. As the rollout progresses, vaccination strategies will need to be flexible and adaptable.”

Move away from AstraZeneca

The European Commission indicated Monday that it is shifting its early Covid-19 vaccination strategy away from AstraZeneca after the Anglo-Swedish company fell far short in its delivery of doses.

The head of the Commission's health directorate, Sandra Gallina, told MEPs the firm has been able to guarantee just 25 percent of the more than 100 million doses promised and that this was “a real issue” for the EU's 27 countries.

“AstraZeneca was going to be the mass vaccine for quarter one,” she said, referring to the first three months of 2021. “The fact that AstraZeneca is not there in the quantities that were stipulated in the contract is quite problematic for all member states.”

Galina added that the Commission was now looking to the vaccines made by BioNTech/Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson to fill the gap.

“There will be many more quantities in quarter two because there will be a new contract that will spring into action. So we will not have only BioNTech and Moderna but we will have BioNTech with a new contract, so it's double the quantities.”

She noted that the new mRNA technology used in the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and a similar one by Moderna had shown “impressive” efficacy levels of over 90 percent in immunising against Covid.

AstraZeneca, which uses the adenovirus technique, has 60 percent efficacy, according to clinical data parsed by the European Medicines Agency.

Gallina said production of the BioNTech/Pfizer doses could be ramped up using other pharmaceutical companies' facilities, for instance ones offered by French company Sanofi, whose own vaccine bid has hit obstacles. 

“Manufacturing is really the moment when we have a problem of constraint for the vaccines,” Gallina said.

But she emphasised that “the problem will not be having the vaccines, the problem will be vaccination… We need to quickly look at how we can speed up vaccination once the vaccines are there.”

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READER QUESTIONS

When will the new Covid-19 vaccines be available in Sweden?

The European Commission has recently approved three new Covid-19 vaccines, targeting both the original virus and the dominating Omicron variants. When are these expected to be available in Sweden?

When will the new Covid-19 vaccines be available in Sweden?

The first vaccines, approved on September 1st, are the Comirnaty Original/Omicron BA.1 and Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron BA.1. These are booster vaccines which will be available for those aged 12 and above who have completed one course of the vaccine against Covid-19.

These two vaccines are designed to target the original strain of the virus, SARS-CoV-2, as well as the Omicron BA.1 subvariant.

Deliveries of this vaccine have recently started to arrive in Sweden, although it may take a few weeks before doses have been distributed to each of Sweden’s regions.

The third vaccine, approved on September 12th, is an adapted version of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine Comirnaty (Pfizer/BioNTech), designed to target the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 in addition to the original strain of SARS-CoV-2. These are the two variants which have dominated Covid-19 infections in Sweden this summer.

“The vaccine contains half the original vaccine and half of a vaccine for the Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5,” vaccine coordinator Charlotta Bergquist at the Swedish Medical Products Agency told TT newswire.

This vaccine is also a booster vaccine, available to those aged 12 and above who have already completed one full course of Covid-19 vaccination.

The Public Health Agency expect delivery of this second vaccine to commence in October.

You don’t need to wait for the new vaccine

From September 1st, those with an increased risk of severe illness due to Covid-19, as well as pregnant women and those over the age of 65 have been eligible for booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine in preparation for the autumn and winter season.

However, the Public Health Agency does not recommend that those who are currently eligible for a booster dose wait until the new vaccines have been delivered, rather that they should take their booster dose with the current vaccine as planned.

“People don’t need to wait for the updated vaccines,” Sören Andersson, head of department at the Public Health Agency said.

“We deem them to be equal when it comes to protection against serious illness and death,” he continued.

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