I got a question about United’s sweepstakes – why won’t United accept AstraZeneca shots?
[B]ecause I was in Europe and didn’t want to wait to get vaccinated in the US, I
received the AstraZeneca shot. United doesn’t have [AstraZeneca] on the sweepstakes list. They said my entry is invalid.
I say they are discriminating against travelers who got a worldwide approved vaccine. Who is United Airlines to decide what vaccine is okay? United Airlines doesn’t have ANY authority in suggesting what vaccine we should choose. Absurd and ridiculous. What’s your take on this?
I posed the question to United. They offered, “He is welcome to send in his entry via mail. It would need to be post marked by June 22 and arrive by June 29.”
Indeed there’s a mail-in option, as I pointed out when the contest launched. There’s no proof of vaccination required – it isn’t really a sweepstakes for getting a vaccine, anyone can enter, it’s just the only entry method that requires you to identify as vaccinated.
A United Airlines spokesperson acknowledged mail-in is how you enter if you haven’t been vaccinated “or if you aren’t able to meet the traditional entry requirements.”
To be sure anyone who wishes could print a vaccine card off the internet, handwrite it, and scan it for upload. But the question came from someone who feels their vaccine choice – the right one, to take the dose available to them and not wait – is somehow seen as less legitimate than people faking their vaccine cards for entry.
United Airlines is on safe ground here. They’re siding with the FDA, which still hasn’t granted an Emergency Use Authorization to AstraZeneca and probably never will. There’s ample vaccine supply currently in the United States, so it’s not needed anymore. But AstraZeneca is a key element of world vaccination campaigns, it’s approved in over 70 countries, and it would have saved lives here too early on.
The FDA punished AstraZeneca for messy trials, but there’s been little doubt that the shot works. It’s has rare side effects (along the lines of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with marginally higher prevalence). It appears not to be as effective against some of the variants as the mRNA vaccines, but no one ever expected anything close to Pfizer-BioNTech’s efficacy.
It’s easy to forget that just a few short months ago there was a hunger games for vaccine doses. Sure, there’s more vaccine than people looking for shots in the U.S. now and some doses could potentially sit unused past their current expiration dates. But from December through March people couldn’t get vaccines if they weren’t using bots or hitting refresh on web browsers all day.
By denying AstraZeneca to Americans in January, people got sick and died who wouldn’t have. They got sick and spread the virus to others who died. There was an opportunity to break transmission chains that we didn’t take. Yet until very recently we stockpiled millions of doses that could have saved lives in the rest of the world, too.
At a minimum the FDA should have had to explain why Americans are genetically different (warranting a different result than European regulators) or why their scientists are smarter than counterparts on the other side of the Pond. We should have focused on getting first doses to as many people as possible (including AstraZeneca) and stretched supply with half doses of Moderna (indeed a half dose of Moderna is even better than a full dose of AstraZeneca). We know by the way that delaying second doses improves immune response (as would have been expected).
United though, a global airline, is siding with the FDA: AstraZeneca doesn’t count. And so United – just like the FDA – owes customers an explanation for why a vaccine approved by the U.K. and the E.U. and so many other countries shouldn’t have been available to Americans when the country was still recording a quarter million cases and over three million deaths from Covid-19 each day.
This is also by the way the problem with vaccine passports – aside from verifying they are real – which vaccines count? How many doses? How long are they valid for? If much of the world is using AstraZeneca and even United Airlines can’t agree to honor it, how likely are governments going to be to come to consensus?