Concerns over Mideast vaccine hesitancy increase after AstraZeneca row

As the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region tends to be more skeptical about vaccines, an increase in the number of people refusing the vaccine could delay a return to a new normal.

A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken January 11, 2021 (photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS)
A vial and sryinge are seen in front of a displayed AstraZeneca logo in this illustration taken January 11, 2021
(photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS)
After a number of European countries halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the coronavirus over blood clot concerns, many in the region are worried about getting vaccinated, which will only spur more vaccine hesitancy in the Middle East.
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Omar, an Amman resident in his twenties, is one such example.
“I was worried about getting the vaccine before the AstraZeneca vaccines were [temporarily] stopped, but now I am definitely not going to get it anytime soon,” he told The Media Line. “It was approved so quickly…who knows if it is really safe?”
The European Medicines Agency, which is in charge of the approval process for the vaccine in the European Union, looked into the blood clot concerns after 13 member countries halted the use of the vaccine. It found that the vaccine is "not associated" with a higher risk of clots. AstraZeneca also stands by the safety of its vaccine.
As the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region tends to be more skeptical about vaccines, an increase in the number of people refusing the vaccine could delay a return to a new normal.
In a pre-print of a study released March 10 titled “A High Rate of COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy Among Arabs: Results of a Large-Scale Survey,” Eyad Qunaibi, Mohamed Helmy, Iman Basheti, and Iyad Sultan found that in an online survey in January of some 38,485 Arab participants in 23 Arab countries and 122 other nations, that there was “a significant rate of vaccine hesitancy among Arabs in and outside the Arab region (83% and 81%, respectively).”
The most common rationales for the tentativeness, according to the study, were: “concerns about side effects and distrust in health care policies, vaccine expedited production, published studies and vaccine producing companies.”
The consequences of unvaccinated people do not only affect the well-being of society.
“Given that the vaccine is being purchased from state expenditure, the high vaccine hesitancy could further compromise the economies of Arab countries in addition to the pandemic health hazard,” according to the study.
The survey found that those in North Africa, like in Tunisia and Morocco, were the most hesitant in the region, while those in the Gulf Cooperative Council countries were the least. Turkey was the most vaccine reluctant in the MENA region.
Concern over the impact of the AstraZeneca vaccine is less of a concern in Israel, which uses the Pfizer vaccine.
“It’s pretty clear that these are totally different vaccines and I don’t think it will have a major impact on vaccination in Israel but theoretically, yes, people may be affected by concerns about COVID-19 vaccine,” Hagai Levine, associate professor of epidemiology at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health in Jerusalem, and chairman of the Israel Association of Public Health Physicians, told The Media Line.
Dan Peretz of Haifa, who is set to get his first dose next week, has not been deterred by the events in Europe.
“While I was initially concerned over how fast the vaccine was approved, I feel safe now,” he told The Media Line. “I would rather take this risk than take the risk of getting coronavirus.”
Here are the latest COVID-19 numbers for the Middle East and North Africa as of 2:45 pm Greenwich Mean Time (UTC±0) on Thursday.

Steven Ganot contributed to this report.