Spaniards line up for AstraZeneca amid concerns over vaccine

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People queue after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, during a mass vaccination campaign at Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. Spain resumed the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Wednesday by extending it to adults up to 65 years old. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

MADRID – Desperate to finally put the coronavirus pandemic behind them, thousands of Spaniards lined up to get shots of AstraZeneca on Wednesday as the European country became the latest to restart use of the vaccine whose credibility has suffered a series of setbacks recently.

Like neighboring countries that had halted use of the vaccine while examining possible adverse effects, Spain’s health officials are now trying to restore confidence in the shot, one of three currently available in the European Union. That is particularly critical at a time when many countries on the continent are struggling to ramp up slow vaccinations while they see infections spike again.

Spain's pivot back to AstraZeneca comes just a day after another blow to its reputation, when American officials said that the British-Swedish drug company may have included “outdated information” in touting the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine in a U.S. trial.

It was not the first stumble for the shot, which is cheaper and easier to store than many of its rivals' and was therefore expected to be used widely around the world, especially in poorer countries. The company had previously faced questions about its data reporting and most recently more than a dozen European countries suspended use of the shot over reports of rare blood clots in some recipients. The European Medicines Agency said last week that the vaccine doesn't increase the overall risk of clotting.

Still, experts fear the repeated negative attention on the vaccine could undermine confidence in it and even the immunization program overall, just when the coronavirus is again surging on the continent.

As has happened in other countries, some Italian regions have reported no-shows and cancelations of vaccine appointments, yet the phenomenon appears to be uneven. Norway has expressed concern over high levels of rejection of the shot.

But so far, in Spain, it seems the fear of ending up in an intensive care unit — or worse — is trumping any concerns people have about the vaccine.

Belén Ruiz, a 56-year-old who works with disabled children, was one of 5,000 people with an appointment to get a shot Wednesday at Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium. She said she was a bit anxious as she waited in a long line, in part because she had dealt with blood clots in the past.