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Why did Denmark ditch the AstraZeneca vaccine?

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Soeren Brostroem, director of the National Board of Health, left and Tanja Erichsen, from the Danish Medicines Agency take part in a press briefing
Soeren Brostroem, director of the National Board of Health, left and Tanja Erichsen, from the Danish Medicines Agency take part in a press briefing   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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Denmark's relatively low infection numbers meant the risks of continuing with the AstraZeneca vaccine outweighed the benefits, an expert has told Euronews.

Last week, the Scandinavian country became the first in Europe to ditch the jab.

That is despite the European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization insisting the benefits of the jab outweigh the risks.

Currently, the country's 14-day COVID infection rate stands at 165 per 100,000 people, one of the lowest in the European Union.

Søren Brostrøm, director-general of the Danish Health Authority, announcing the decision on April 14 said there was "a real and serious side effect signal" from the vaccine.

Camilla Foged, professor at the University of Copenhagen's department of pharmacy, told Euronews that continuing with the vaccine would be a gamble with the wellbeing of otherwise healthy people.

“The main argument for stopping the use of the vaccine is the skewed balance between health advantages and risks,” she said.

“We have low infection numbers.

"The example given by Søren Brostrøm is if the 200,000 AstraZeneca doses are targeted at the 65– 69 age group. If you give the doses to Danes in this age group under the current circumstances, five persons (one in 40,000) will experience severe blood clots according to statistics. Of those, one to two (20-40%) will die. On the other hand, the doses are calculated to prevent just one admission to intensive care.”

Based on these numbers, it is not justifiable to continue with the AstraZeneca vaccine, added Foged.

Nevertheless, she said, Danes are highly supportive of the vaccine programme in general.

A survey -- carried out between November last year and this February and published by Our World In Data -- put Denmark among the countries most willing to get a COVID jab.

A more recent poll, however, highlights the lack of confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine. The survey, carried out by Voxmeter revealed nearly one-in-two Danish respondents -- 45.9 per cent -- would not accept the jab.

Tom Møinich Sonn, who works in the homecare sector, is one of them. In February, he started the Facebook group “NO THANK YOU to the Astra Zeneca vaccine”.

“From the beginning, I said no to the AstraZeneca vaccine," he said. "I work in the health care sector, and we are highly exposed.

"A vaccine that only covers 60% [the World Health Organization says the jab's efficacy rate is 63.09%] is not good enough for us.

"In my family - on both my mother´s and father´s side - relatives have died from blood clots. I have increased blood pressure,” he tells.

The 41-year-old said it was "unbelievable" that frontline healthcare staff had been given the vaccine when the Pfizer one, with an efficacy of 90%, is available.

“We [healthcare workers] operate under such great insecurity. Every day we go in and out of homes with vulnerable people, and I have several colleagues, who got infected with COVID-19. The anxiety is always there. The next of kin infects a citizen, who in turn infects us.

“When I heard the news that Pfizer costs around 100 DKK (€13.44) more than AstraZeneca, I thought to myself: They are giving us the second-rate vaccine. Bought home at a lower cost but with worse side effects."

Bente Flint Jensen, another member of the Facebook group opposing the AstraZeneca jab, says it is unfair some Danes have received a less effective vaccine.

The 59-year-old also worries about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, saying if its side effects are worse than Pfizer and Moderna she will say no.