Thursday 28 January 2021 1:35 pm

Germany recommends blocking Astrazeneca vaccine for over-65s

German health authorities have issued a draft recommendation that the Astrazeneca coronavirus vaccine should not be used in over-65s.

A statement by the Standing Vaccine Commission at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) — Germany’s main public health body — said there was “insufficient data currently available to ascertain how effective the vaccination is above 65 years.”

It recommended that the vaccine only be used on people between the ages of 18 and 64.

The RKI added that both the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine and the Moderna vaccine were “judged to be equivalent in terms of safety and efficacy”.

Astrazeneca shares fell two per cent to 7,626p on the announcement, after closing down 1.7 per cent yesterday.

Media mayhem

It follows days of confusion over Germany’s stance on the Astrazeneca vaccine, following incorrect reports by local German media that the jab was only 8 per cent effective among over-65s.

Daily business paper Handelsblatt and mass-circulation Bild on Monday cited anonymous German government sources as casting doubt on the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Handelsblatt reported that the German government was working on the basis that the vaccine was only 8 per cent effective among those over 65, compared with over 90 per cent for the other vaccines.

‘Completely incorrect’

German ministers later clarified that the figure had been quoted mistakenly, while Astrazeneca slammed the reports as “completely incorrect”.

In November, the British-Swedish firm published data in the leading medical journal The Lancet “demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100 per cent of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose”.

In an interview with Italy’s La Repubblica earlier this week, chief executive Pascal Soriot, explained that the research team started vaccinating older people later so it did not have “a huge number of older people that had been vaccinated”. 

“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 added that it was possible that some countries might use the vaccine just for younger people “out of caution”.

Vaccine vacuum

The muddle comes amid mounting tensions between Astrazeneca and the EU over vaccine supplies.

Astrazeneca last Friday said manufacturing issues meant it would only be able to supply around 60 per cent of its original 400m-dose order to the bloc.

In an escalating tit-fot-tat, the EU yesterday announced it would consider restricting exports of vaccines made on the continent as a result.

The EU’s health commissioner dismissed Soriot’s that he was contractually obliged to supply the UK first, demanding that Astrazeneca divert some of its supplies from UK plants to distribute across the bloc.

“We reject the logic of first come, first served,” Stella Kyriakides said. “That may work in a butcher’s shop but not in contracts and not in our advanced purchase agreements.”

Soriot has rejected the suggestion Astrazeneca is selling to the highest bidder, noting that the company has vowed not to make a profit on the vaccine during the pandemic, signing deals at cost price.

The two sides have vowed to resolve clashes over supply shortages after “constructive” crisis talks this morning.

However, there are concerns that the EU’s demands may lead to disruption of the UK’s vaccine rollout.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson insisted that the “timetable” remains unchanged, but refused to rule out whether supplies would be hampered.

“We will offer the vaccination to all groups by September. We have set out our vaccination plan and who we are prioritising and the rollout of it.” they said.