A declaration of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca as wholly unsafe would only delay the EU’s vaccine rollout by one month, economists have suggested.
The European Medicines Agency will issue its decision on the vaccine’s safety later on 18 March, after several countries temporarily suspended use of the drug over a small rise in blood clotting events.
AstraZeneca has said a review of all available safety data from more than 17 million vaccinated people in the EU had shown “no evidence of an increased risk” of blood clots in any age group, gender, batch of shots or particular country.
Here’s what could happen under three different outcomes from the EMA’s meeting, according to a team at Goldman Sachs.
Scenario 1: A total ban
Even under the most “severe and very unlikely downside scenario” of the EMA declaring the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot unsafe for use, Goldman said the bloc would still reach the threshold of a 50% vaccinated adult population about four weeks later than was previously forecast.
This is for several reasons, but mostly because the AstraZeneca jab only accounts for 25% of the EU’s expected second quarter vaccine supply, the bank said in a 17 March note to clients.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on 17 March that AstraZeneca had already underdelivered on its promised vaccine schedule to the EU, with its doses dropping from a projected 90 million by the end of this quarter to 30 million.
Other factors include that after the second quarter as the rush to vaccinate slows, Goldman said it expects “vaccine supply to be plentiful”, with recent US vaccination speeds suggesting that alternatives from Pfizer and Moderna can be rolled out rapidly.
Public confidence in regulators and the vaccine is likely to be boosted by the decision to take AstraZeneca off the cards. Goldman said there are also “likely to be fewer delays from people trying to choose their vaccine”.
Under this scenario, the bank forecast that the EU would reach 50% of its population being vaccinated by the first week of August, compared to its baseline of the first week of July.
Scenario 2: The vaccine is conclusively safe
Conversely, the EMA may fully back AstraZeneca’s findings about its vaccine’s safety.
“This is a best case scenario where we would expect vaccinations with Oxford-AstraZeneca to largely recommence by the weekend and to progress roughly in line with our baseline early March timelines,” the investment bank said.
Any further disruption in the coming days would likely be offset by the increase in the speed of vaccinations compared to a few weeks ago, meaning Germany could vaccinate 50% of its population with a first dose by late June, and Italy, Spain and France to follow in July.
All plans to reopen the EU for business, particularly as the bloc reaches summer holiday season, would be unaffected. This is timely as the EU launched its digital vaccine passports proposals on 17 March, with plans to offer a vaccine certificate to anyone who has recently received the jab, had a negative coronavirus test or recently recovered from the disease.
Scenario 3: Evidence on AstraZeneca is inconclusive, but the benefits outweigh the risks
Under this scenario, which Goldman said is still “plausible”, the AstraZeneca jab will go ahead for use across the bloc but timing will falter.
The economists said they expect most countries will opt to resume use of the shot by the end of March, but that EU demand for the vaccine, “which was already relatively low prior to the suspensions, to persistently fall short” compared to alternatives on offer.
Further delays could arise from people trying to choose the vaccine they want to receive, meaning the EU’s 50% threshold could be reached two weeks later than the baseline prediction.
This would put the EU on track to meet its target in the third week of July, pushing back into the tourism season.
However, under either of the less positive EMA outcomes, Goldman said the bloc’s progress towards achieving collective immunity should still mean reopening plans can occur by the final quarter of 2021 and “limited-to-no restrictions” by the end of the year.
Economic growth in the Euro area could slip from Goldman’s baseline of 5.1% for this year, to between 4.6% and 4.8% depending on the severity of the decision.
“Our assessment of the likely implications of any future challenges to the rollout of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines across the Euro area suggests scope for delays of up to one month in terms of reopening plans, which would delay but not derail the strong growth rebound we expect across Europe,” said the economists.
To contact the author of this story with feedback or news, email Emily Nicolle