German jabs board not recommending AstraZeneca for older people

By: AFP      Published: 09:19 PM, 28 Jan, 2021
German jabs board not recommending AstraZeneca for older people

Germany's vaccine commission said Thursday it could not recommend the use of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine for older people, the latest twist in a row over the jab that has put Britain and the EU on a collision course.

The panel of scientific experts, called STIKO, said the vaccine should only be used for "persons aged 18 to 65 years old based on available data".

"There is currently insufficient data to assess the efficacy of the vaccine for persons aged 65 years and older," said the panel.

"Other than this limitation, this vaccine is considered appropriate" for usage, according to the recommendation by STIKO.

AstraZeneca's vaccine, which was jointly developed with the University of Oxford, has not been granted approval yet for general use in the European Union.

But the bloc's medicines regulator EMA is poised to authorise it on Friday.

AstraZeneca was already locked in a increasingly bitter row with the EU after the company said it could only supply a quarter of the doses it had promised for the first quarter of 2021.

The huge delivery delay adds a further stumbling block to the EU's already sluggish rollout of the vaccine compared to Britain or the United States.

AstraZeneca's chief executive Pascal Soriot said in an interview on Tuesday that his company was prioritising supplies to Britain, which signed its contract three months before the EU did. 

He argued that his firm was only required to make a "best effort" to supply the bloc. 

The European Commission erupted in fury, demanding on Wednesday that the British-Swedish company make up for the delays by supplying doses from its UK factories.

But Britain also insists it must receive all of the vaccines it ordered -- and there are simply not enough to go round. 

Amid the row, the EU said it would now require companies to declare any export of vaccines made in the bloc, a sign of growing distrust in AstraZeneca.

Limited information

Germany's STIKO did not detail the data from clinical trials on the vaccine on older people

However, two prominent German media outlets had reported that the efficacy on above-65s was below 10 percent -- claims that were firmly rejected by Germany's health ministry and the British-Swedish company.

The Handelsblatt economic daily had reported Monday that Berlin had estimated the efficacy of the jab among over-65s was just eight percent, citing unnamed sources within the government.

Separately the Bild daily, quoting anonymous sources, said the efficacy rate was "less than 10 percent".

Dismissing the reports, a German health ministry spokesman said Wednesday: "A false claim does not become true just because it is repeated."

He noted that it is a known fact that AstraZeneca trials involved fewer older people than other manufacturers'.

Around eight percent of the volunteers in AstraZeneca's efficacy studies were around 56 and 69 years old and three to four percent were above 70 years old, according to the ministry. 

But "that the efficacy is only eight percent is incomprehensible and in our view, wrong," the spokesman added.

In comparison, 41 percent of participants in BioNTech-Pfizer's vaccine trials have been aged 56-85.

Despite the German questions over the efficacy of the vaccine on older people, AstraZeneca's jab has already been authorised and used widely in Britain.

Britain's MHRA regulator said in its consideration of the vaccine that "there is limited information available on efficacy in participants aged 65 or over, although there is nothing to suggest lack of protection".