People in Sweden do not have the option to choose which vaccine they get, but are told before it is administered which vaccine is being used.
“In my department we had planned for 150 patients aged over 65 with diabetes, who were to be vaccinated. There were 20 who cancelled ahead of time and seven who left [once they found out which vaccine they would get]. One said ‘I don’t want to die’ and left immediately,” she said. doctor Maria Taranger told the Göteborgs Posten.
“It is a completely crazy risk assessment they’re doing,” she said.
Sweden’s Public Health Agency and government have stressed that the risks of the vaccine are far outweighed by its benefits, in line with advice from the World Health Organisation and European Medicines Agency to continue using the Astra Zeneca vaccine as a safe and effective way to prevent serious illness from Covid-19.
However, a decision to pause the rollout of the vaccine has weakened confidence, and it is currently only recommended for use in over-65s in Sweden following reports of rare blood clots. Millions of doses of the vaccine have been administered, and small numbers of people have developed deadly blood clots, most of them women under 60 within two weeks of vaccination.
Neighbours Norway and Denmark are still not using the Astra Zeneca jab, although a lower level of Covid-19 spread in both countries means their weekly numbers of deaths from Covid-19 are lower than in Sweden.
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The number of people refusing the Astra Zeneca is still relatively small. But in both Gothenburg and Stockholm, regional health chiefs have confirmed that refusals of the Astra Zeneca jab had led to doses being thrown away altogether. Sweden is currently behind the EU average when it comes to the percentage of the total population to have received a Covid-19 vaccine.
Confusion and concern among the public is also increasing the workload of already overstretched healthcare staff.
Kristina Fant, operations manager at a Stockholm healthcare centre, said she had been on the receiving end of anger or upset from patients “countless times” when they were told they would receive the Astra Zeneca vaccine. She said she was spending hours each week speaking to people about their concerns, and that between five to ten percent refused the jab — though others responded with tears of joy at the news they would be vaccinated.
“I think that a lot of people are feeling very bad right now. There is impatience and frustration that is expressed in different ways when you do not get what you want or feel entitled to. These are feelings that we must respect,” she told the TT newswire.
“From a healthcare perspective, I don’t think that the average person feels good about how the flow of information has been around the vaccine. We humans are not used to making our own risk assessments.”
A head of operations at another Stockholm clinic, Maria av Solstråle Sténson, told the newswire about a woman who had a panic attack when she found out she would receive the Astra Zeneca vaccine, but because she was more concerned about the impact of the virus than potential vaccine side effects, she still took the vaccine and thanked the doctor afterwards.
“Now I just want people to trust our authorities. [I want] the population to continue to follow the existing restrictions and trusts that the vaccine decisions made are correct,” said av Solstråle Sténson.