Background Several countries paused their rollouts of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in mid-March 2021 due to concerns about vaccine-induced thrombosis and thrombocytopenia. Many warned that this risked damaging public confidence during a critical period of pandemic response. This study investigated whether the pause in the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had an impact on subsequent vaccine uptake in European countries. Methods We used a difference-in-differences approach capitalizing on the fact that some countries halted their rollouts whilst others did not. A longitudinal panel was constructed for European Economic Area countries spanning 15 weeks in early 2021. Media reports were used to identify countries that paused the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and the timing of this. Data on vaccine uptake were available through the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker. Difference-in-differences linear regression models controlled for key confounders that could influence vaccine uptake, and country and week fixed effects. Further models and robustness checks were performed. Results The panel included 28 countries, with 19 in the intervention group and 9 in the control group. Pausing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was associated with a 0.52% decrease in uptake for the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and a 1.49% decrease in the uptake for both doses, comparing countries that paused to those that did not. These estimates are not statistically significant (p=0.86 and 0.39 respectively). For the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine only, the pause was associated with a 0.56% increase in uptake for the first dose and a 0.07% decrease in uptake for both doses. These estimates are also not statistically significant (p= 0.56 and 0.51 respectively). All our findings are robust to sensitivity analyses. Conclusion As new COVID-19 vaccines emerge, regulators should be cautious to deviate from usual protocols if further investigation on clinical or epidemiological grounds is warranted.
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