03:17 GMT21 April 2021
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    French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have all made statements casting doubt on the effectiveness or safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine — while the European Union has demanded all production be reserved for its own use.

    Claims by world leaders that the AstraZeneca (AZ) COVID-19 vaccine is ineffective have damaged public confidence in it — and other jabs against the deadly virus.

    That is according to a new survey by UK pollsters YouGov, which found scepticism not only for the Oxford jab but those made by Pfizer and Moderna too. That followed moths of political rows over both the effectiveness of the Anglo-Swedish firm's vaccine and its pace of deliveries to the European Union (EU).

    That feeling was strongest in Germany, where more than a quarter said they would refuse the AZ jab and wait until they were offered another to be immunised.

    ​That figure was almost as high in Italy, France and Spain, while just over one-in-ten US citizens would refuse the Oxford vaccine.

    But that wariness was reflected in attitudes to rival vaccines. Six per cent of Germans said they would refuse the home-Grown Pfizer vaccine, and 12 per cent rejected US newcomer Moderna's.

    By contrast, only two per cent of Britons said they would refuse the AZ jab, rising to four per cent for Pfizer and five per cent for Moderna.  

    The contrast was far more striking when respondents were asked their opinion of the safety of the three vaccines.

    Brits were far more likely to view immunisation as safe than the other five countries surveyed, with the French most sceptical and Americans also expressing doubts.

    Political Battles

    French president Emmanuel Macron claimed in January that the Oxford jab was "quasi-ineffective" in over-65s — but earlier this month his government's health ministry said it would offer the vaccine to people up to 75 years old.

    German chancellor Angela Merkel said last week that she would not have the AstraZeneca vaccine, following the national Health Commission's decision not to recommend it for over-65s. In January, German newspaper Handelsblatt claimed the shot was only eight per cent effective — although that was quickly debunked by officials.

    But the EU has also demanded AstraZeneca prioritise it for deliveries in a bid to speed up its snails-pace immunisation programme run centrally from Brussels by the European Commission. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen launched a 'vaccine war' against the UK in January, demanding supplies produced there be shipped to the continent. Last week Italy and the Commission blocked a shipment of 250,000 Oxford jabs to Australia as part of draconian new rules.

    AstraZeneca supplies its vaccine at a non-profit cost price of around $2 to $5 per dose, a fraction of the price charged by other Western manufacturers. It has also cooperated with Russia's Gamaleya Institute on combining its Sputnik V vaccine with the Oxford jab in a two-dose regime, and has licensed production to the Serum Institute of India (SII). 

    Last month the South African government blocked the deployment of 1 million doses of the Oxford jab bought and paid for from the SII after a study — which had not been peer-reviewed — suggested it was less effective against the 501Y.V2 variant dominant in the country. But Pretoria has since launched a mass clinical trial of the US-developed Johnson & Johnson vaccine, despite similar findings about its efficacy.

    And Veteran US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi falsely claimed in October last year that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was about to approve the Oxford jab for use, when in fact only the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) can do so. Pelosi was attempting to deflate boasts by then-president Donald Trump of his impending vaccination programme. The UK regulator eventually approved the AstraZeneca vaccine at the end of December.


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