Wednesday 10 February 2021 11:30 am

Italy blocks Astrazeneca vaccine for over-65s

Italy has become the latest European country to slap age restrictions on the Astrazeneca vaccine, after officials said there was “insufficient data” to prove it will help protect over-65s against Covid-19.

The Italian government said it would only use the jab made by the Anglo-Swedish firm on people aged between 18 and 65 and in good health.

Read more: Ministers in talks with US and Singapore over international vaccine certificate

Those at greater risk will be immunised with either the Pfizer/Biontech vaccine or “mRNA-based” jabs such as the Moderna vaccine, the government in Rome announced.

Officials cited the existence of more “solid” data for the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine among younger adults.

The Italian Medicines Agency stressed that “in terms of percentage reduction in the frequency of symptomatic infections, the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine is lower than that of mRNA vaccines” according to current data.

Italy follows a spate of other countries imposing restrictions on the Astrazeneca jab despite it receiving the green light for use on all adults by the European Medicines Agency last week.

Last Friday, Spain also limited the use of the Astrazeneca vaccine for over-55s as it received its first batches of the jab over the weekend.

Meanwhile, Germany last month recommended blocking the Astrazeneca vaccine for use on over-65-year-olds, claiming there was “insufficient data” to grant it emergency approval. 

The move followed days of confusion over Germany’s stance on the Astrazeneca vaccine, in the wake of incorrect reports by local German media that the jab was only 8 per cent effective among over-65s.

Vaccine vacuum

The age controversy comes after weeks of frustration on the continent over the sluggish vaccine rollout across the EU.

So far, less than four per cent of adult EU citizens have been immunised against coronavirus, compared to around 20 per cent of adults in the UK. 

European Commission officials tried to pressure Astrazeneca into diverting some of its UK vaccine supply to the bloc last week after the company said manufacturing problems meant it could not commit to delivering agreed doses to the EU. 

Read more: Von der Leyen: ‘Mistakes were made’ ahead of EU/UK vaccine debacle

When Astrazeneca refused, the EU attempted to override the Brexit deal to introduce export controls on vaccines out of the continent. 

The EU swiftly rowed back on the threats following widespread condemnation from British leaders, with Von der Leyen admitting “complete responsibility” for the mix-up.