The decision by EU leaders to pause the rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has "hugely damaged" public trust in the jab across the continent, a shocking new poll shows.
In some major countries – including Germany, France and Spain – more people now think the vaccine is unsafe than safe.
Many nations temporarily suspended their rollouts of the vaccine earlier this month over fears of a link to blood clots, but countries including Germany, France, Spain and Italy have since all said they would resume their programmes after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) called it "safe and effective".
But the YouGov survey of more than 8,800 people in seven countries seems to indicate that the damage to public trust has already been done, with 61% of French people, 55% of Germans, 52% of Spaniards and 43% of Italians all saying they believe the jab is unsafe.
In the UK, where the national regulator has always insisted there is no link between the jab and blood clots, only 9% of people say it isn’t safe.
Watch: European regulator says AstraZeneca vaccine is safe
Matthew Smith, head of data journalism at YouGov, tweeted the information in what he called “the stupidist, stupidist, stupidest chart I have ever made”, and accused EU nations' leaders of an “abject failure of leadership”.
“The decision by many countries, including many EU nations, suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine following concerns that it could cause blood clots, has hugely damaged public perceptions of the vaccine’s safety in Europe,” said Smith.
At least 13 countries stopped using the AstraZeneca jab in the past two weeks, but several resumed their programmes on Friday after the EMA called it “safe and effective” in a preliminary report last week, echoing the view of the World Health Organization.
And on Monday, a US-led trial of more than 32,000 people found the vaccine is 79% effective at preventing COVID-19 and offers 100% protection against severe disease.
Meanwhile, junior health minister Helen Whately has warned the EU not to engage in “vaccine nationalism” after reports of EU proposals to block the export of the AstraZeneca jab to the UK.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who is under pressure over the EU’s relatively poor vaccine rollout, ramped up the rhetoric at the weekend, saying the EU has the power to “forbid” exports, adding: “That is the message to AstraZeneca.”
The warning reflects growing frustration on the continent that the EU is not getting the supplies it expected from the British-Swedish manufacturer.
Boris Johnson is expected to contact his EU counterparts by phone ahead of a virtual summit on Thursday where European leaders are due to consider the matter.
Reports have suggested the latest focus of the row is on AstraZeneca vaccines produced in the Halix plant in the Netherlands, with officials arguing they should be kept for the EU rather than exported to the UK.
Whately told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday: “What we’re hearing at the moment is some speculation, some conjecture, an element of rhetoric.
“But what is actually important is that the EU and no country should follow vaccine nationalism or vaccine protectionism.
“We expect the European Union to stick by their commitments and I’m sure the prime minister will be in contact with European counterparts – he speaks to European counterparts regularly – but I don’t think this debate is helpful to anybody.
“What matters is for all countries to be getting on and deploying and vaccinating their population.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC Radio: “I don’t think the EU is helping itself here, I don’t think it has helped itself much in the last few weeks and months on the whole question of the vaccine.
“I don’t think they should go down this road of banning exports.”
The UK is already facing a squeeze on vaccine supplies in April, and Starmer said the dispute with the EU needed to be resolved as quickly as possible “because we don’t want any shortage in vaccines to interrupt the rollout in this country”.
Johnson celebrated “a record-breaking day for the vaccine rollout” in the UK after 844,285 first or second dose jabs were given to members of public on Saturday.
Watch: EU 'must not block COVID vaccine exports to UK'