After mixed messages, Europe warns against vaccine shopping

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A nurse receives the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in the state of Brandenburg where the first coronavirus vaccinations are given in doctors' surgeries, in Senftenberg, Germany, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Hannibal Hanschke/Pool via AP)

PARIS – First, France's president suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” in protecting older people from COVID-19. Now, Emmanuel Macron's government is begging people to take it.

Germany finds itself in a similar situation.

Berlin shifted gears on its cautious policy this week after an independent vaccine panel said the AstraZeneca shots should be used in people over 65. Top German officials on Friday argued against “vaccine shopping” and urged people to take whatever potential protection they’re offered.

Mixed messaging has left many people in both countries confused or distrustful of governmental guidance on the AstraZeneca jab. Meanwhile, Europe's infections are rebounding and other people around the continent and the world are clamoring for access to any COVID-19 vaccine they can get.

European governments' initial hesitancy around AstraZeneca's vaccine was based on limited data on whether it works on those over 65. But new data on its effectiveness — and pressure to accelerate the EU’s slow vaccine rollout and utilize unused AstraZeneca doses — prompted health authorities in multiple European countries this week to reverse course and allow its use for all ages.

In France, all those who work with the sick or elderly have been eligible for weeks to get the AstraZeneca vaccine — but only 30% have taken it so far. Some have argued they want a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine instead, which are currently only available in France to the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions.

So French Health Minister Olivier Veran was sending a letter Friday to all health workers urging them to get vaccinated. And if that doesn't work, he said he could convene a special ethics committee to weigh requiring them to do so.

“Clearly that (30%) is not enough,” Veran told a news conference Thursday night. While paying homage to health workers, he said: “When you are a medical professional, it is your responsibility to protect ... yourself and your patients."