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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Adding insult to injury

Hey Europe, it may be time to consider that ‘less is more’

The middle of March was a particularly bad time for Europeans, and that’s saying something since the last fourteen months have seen wave after wave of gut-wrenching health news and dire economic statistics.

Certainly, some of the bad news has to do with the fact that case loads of COVID-19 are rising, and countries are once again going into lockdown. Without doubt, the vicious rise and spread of troubling variants that are more transmissible and, it seems, more deadly has compounded the problem on the European continent. But that is not the whole story.

As if purposefully adding insult to injury amid this chaos of rising case loads and the emergence of deadly new variants, many member states in the European Union announced that they would pause the delivery of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine due to a handful of reports of rare side effects including blood clots and abnormal bleeding among the seventeen million recipients of the vaccine.

For those who have somehow missed this headline-grabbing news, the scientific consensus has been that the incidence of blood clotting among patients receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine has not been higher than the rate seen in the general population. The European Medicines Agency came out with a statement that the vaccine is safe and now countries are trying to restart their inoculation campaigns in the hope that this incident has not set them back too much.

Almost simultaneously, the European Union proposed a Digital Green Certificate which would allow citizens to travel across the continent as long as they have proof of a COVID-19 vaccination, a negative test result or documented recovery from the virus.

According to the European Union’s top justice official who was quoted on the matter, “the Digital Green Certificate will not be a precondition to free movement, and it will not discriminate in any way”.

Wait, what?

Of course this will be a precondition to free movement. Otherwise, why have it in the first place? As for the discrimination comment, whatever. Nobody believes that and it’s absurd to suggest otherwise. But political hot air aside, on a more practical level this just doesn’t make sense.

Firstly, which vaccines will be considered as being proof of having received a vaccination? Will we count the Chinese (Sinopharm) and Russian (Sputnik) vaccines in that group? And what’s the point of showing a negative test result when the test result only proves you were negative at the exact moment you got the test and not when you are in front of a customs agent at a land crossing or in an airport.

Finally, what exactly is ‘documented recovery from the virus’? Who will ascertain this moment in the course of the infected traveller’s disease? Which doctor on the planet can reliably tell you that a patient has a documented recovery from SARS-CoV-2, particularly in light of new variants and lingering long-term effects known as ‘long COVID’? And what do we do with the tens of thousands (maybe millions) of people who don’t want to get vaccinated for whatever reason? Are they forbidden from travel until herd immunity has been reached?

These two recent incidents from the European Union continue to raise persistently troubling questions for those of us on this side of the Atlantic, about why Europe continues to flail about as it tries to get a handle on this situation. Look, North America has struggled. Brazil appears to have given up. As does Mexico. Other countries around the globe are equally guilty of shoddy responses.

But Europe is Europe. She has strength in her sheer numbers. She has incredibly robust and well-trained health systems. She is formidable. The continent invented two of the vaccines (BioNTech & AstraZeneca) currently being used. And money, for the most part, is not an issue as European governments have shown a willingness to spend what it takes.

Cultural differences might play a part in the clumsy response but we, here in The Americas, have our own issues of anti-vaxxers and COVID-19 deniers. Our streets are replete with monthly protests about civil rights and suppression of freedoms too. Maybe bad luck has played a part.

It is likely that the answer is multifactorial. It is also likely that we will never find the true answer. What we do know is that Europe is nowhere close to delivering the needed doses of vaccines to its population in order to reach herd immunity through inoculation in 2021. Some have suggested that the very nature of a multi-country union is too clunky and ponderous for the nuances of a global health pandemic.

That the ability to pivot quickly and make agile decisions is hampered by infighting and friction among the member states. That the needs of the many cannot coexist with the needs of the one. That it may be time for each country to go it alone.

They may be right.

Rohit Khanna is the Managing Director of Catalytic Health, a healthcare communication, advertising & strategy agency. He can be reached at: rohit@catalytichealth.com

22nd April 2021

From: Healthcare

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