“The Brussels Diary With Yana Toom”: Three Vaccines, Many Questions


Well, well – it seems that there is some light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel. Yes, true, this year’s New Year and Christmas will not be the happiest. Nonetheless, Europe, like Baron von Munchausen, is gradually saving itself from the coronavirus swamp by pulling on its own hair. After imposing stricter measures, the number of people falling ill has been decreasing in several countries, such as in Poland and Germany, although the Germans think that the situation could have improved more rapidly. On Thursday, shops and restaurants will re-open in the Czech Republic. In Brussels, shops were re-opened on Tuesday; however, Belgium will not relax its measures in other ways.

A vaccine is also on the horizon, and not one but three! The EU has concluded contracts on these vaccines for 430 million people. The total number of people in Europe is 450 million, and it is clear that not all will agree to be vaccinated.

I am not against vaccines; however, I am cautious about them. It’s true that the pharmaceutical giants are doing everything they can to be allowed to begin the vaccination process as quickly as possible; on top of everything else, it’s guaranteed income for them. Still, as you know, speed is good only when killing lice!

There have been cases where producers of medicinal products have been caught red-handed. The British pharma company AstraZeneca – one developer of a prospective COVID vaccine – produced the drug Seroquel, which was intended for the treatment of bipolar disorder. The company illegally promoted Seroquel for the treatment of children and older people and it concealed data about its adverse effects. Some believe that thousands of people developed hyperglycaemia and diabetes as a result. In 2010, in order to resolve the issue in the US, the company set aside half of billion dollars. Paid off. At the time, the Financial Times wrote ‘there are lies, damned lies and... the results of clinical trials’.

There are also questions about AstraZeneca’s new vaccine – the medication showed low efficacy because, according to the company’s claims, the drug was given to different subjects in varying doses and ‘the hospital average’ was 70%. Consequently, now, new testing must be undertaken. It remains to be seen if this vaccine will be licensed in the EU; however, it is not a given to talk about trust under such conditions.

In addition, there can be adverse side effects, which may not occur immediately. In Sweden, a country with a high level of medical competence, people have little enthusiasm about the COVID vaccine. Swedes remember the scandal in 2011 when following vaccination against swine flu it transpired that many children and adolescents became narcoleptic, i.e. developed a difficult sleeping disorder. Back then, the Swedes were the first to halt vaccination, with the entire EU following afterwards. In Estonia, no narcolepsy cases occurred; however, tens of Swedish children were affected.

Therefore, I would not rush to criticise the doubters. The share of doubters is not that small: in October, every third person agreed to be vaccinated against COVID in France, by the end of November that had become every second person. In Spain, the share of people agreeing to vaccination is 60%. The number is slightly lower in Germany and Italy. We can only count on the European Medicines Agency – the institution that decides whether to allow vaccines into the EU or not. Until then, let us wear masks, maintain social distance, and protect others and ourselves.