Germany questions efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine in the elderly

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AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine should only be given to people aged between 18 and 64, Germany’s vaccine committee said in a draft recommendation, a day ahead of a decision by European regulators on whether to approve the drugmaker’s shot.

“There are currently insufficient data available to assess the vaccine efficacy from 65 years of age,” the committee, also known as Stiko, said in a draft resolution made available by the German health ministry on Thursday.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine, unlike the mRNA vaccines, should only be offered to people aged 18-64 years at each stage,” it added.

Stiko’s assessment was based on the same trial data published by medical journal The Lancet on December 8.

The European Union approved a vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in late December, and gave the green light to Moderna’s vaccine in early January.

AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But on Monday, the drugmaker denied that its COVID-19 vaccine is not very effective for people over 65, after German media reports said officials fear the vaccine may not be approved in the European Union for use in the elderly.

AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said the company had less data than other drugmakers on the elderly because it started vaccinating older people later.

“But we have strong data showing very strong antibody production against the virus in the elderly, similar to what we see in younger people,” he told Die Welt newspaper in an interview earlier this week.

The German health ministry said of the 341 people vaccinated in the group aged 65 and over, only one became infected with the coronavirus, meaning the expert vaccine panel had not been able to derive a statistically significant statement.

Boris Johnson dismisses German claims

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in creating an immune response in the elderly.(Reuters: Justin Tallis)

In response British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University is effective across all age groups.

“I don’t agree with that,” Mr Johnson said when asked about the German statement.

“The evidence that they’ve seen, that they’ve supplied, is that they think that it is effective across all age groups, and provides a good immune response across all age groups.”

In December, Britain became the first country to approve AstraZeneca’s shot.

Public Health England said the vaccine provides reassuring immune responses in elderly people, even if full efficacy data is still patchy.

“There were too few cases in older people in the AstraZeneca trials to observe precise levels of protection in this group, but data on immune responses were very reassuring,” Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisations at PHE said in a statement.

In a report on its approval for temporary supply of the vaccine, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said “there is limited information available on efficacy in participants aged 65 or over, although there is nothing to suggest lack of protection”.

Britain, which is also rolling out a shot supplied by Pfizer, has given more than 7 million people their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and is racing to vaccinate the most vulnerable groups, including over 70s, by mid-February.

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