When European drug regulators acknowledged a link between AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine and a rare type of blood clots, it spread another dose of skepticism across the continent. But in the poorer east, the doubts are more over the findings than the shot.
Most western members of the European Union announced some restrictions of the vaccine’s use for younger age groups or halted it completely. The opposite happened across the east, with nine of 11 nations in the region deciding to keep administrating the shot to all adults.
“Let’s not create unnecessary panic,” Bulgarian Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said as he listed the benefits of Astra drug. “Let’s not become a part of that war between the different companies, because it’s already visible.”
The former Eastern Bloc is home to almost a quarter of the EU’s 440 million population and is struggling to tame the pandemic. For these countries—which dominate the world’s top 10 list of coronavirus deaths per capita—curbing a vaccine that’s key to their supplies is unthinkable because they can’t afford to slow inoculation. Germany, by comparison, has doubled the number of daily Covid-19 vaccinations, while France hit a key milestone a week early.
The world is counting on the Astra shot because of its price and ease-of-use, and it represents most of the vaccines ordered by about a third of eastern EU members. The vaccine is more easily transported and stored than the mRNA-based vaccines from Moderna Inc. and Pfizer-BioNTech, and the Anglo-Swedish company has promised to deliver as many as 3 billion shots in 2021 on a not-for-profit basis.
Hungary, which strayed from the EU-orchestrated procurement program and directly purchased vaccines from Russia and China, also has sought to express its support for Astra.
“The debate surrounding AstraZeneca’s vaccine should be viewed as a business struggle between drugmakers rather than valid opinions on medical risks,” Gergely Gulyas, the minister in charge of the prime minister’s office, said on April 8.
A day earlier, the EU and U.K. regulators said there was a possible link between the Astra shot and blood clots, though both said the risks for most people were far outweighed by the…