Mar 01, 2021

Germany under pressure to approve AstraZeneca vaccine for over-65s

Senior adult in a wheelchair at the hospital wearing a facemask

In late January this year, the German Standing Committee on Vaccination – Stiko – drafted a recommendation that the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be administered to people over 65, after raising concerns over its efficacy within that age bracket. 

But over the weekend, German officials have been put under pressure to retract this, and approve the vaccine for older people, after it was revealed that the advice given may have been flawed. 

In an interview with the BBC, Carsten Watzl, head of the German Society for Immunology, said that he thought German regulators would retract their recommendation, and even went so far as to suggest German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is 66-years-old, receive the AstraZeneca vaccine live on TV to prove it’s safe. 

Thomas Mertens, the head of Stiko, said that there had been errors when the initial recommendation was made, and as a result, the country was likely to change their stance on the vaccine, promising “a new, updated recommendation very soon”, and that “somehow the whole thing went very badly”.

“We had the data that we had and based on this data we made the recommendation. But we never criticized the vaccine. We only criticised the fact that the data situation for the age group over 65 was not good or not sufficient,” he said on Germany’s ZDF news network. 

Mr Mertens went on to say that the AstraZeneca vaccine was “very good” and since the original recommendation was made, they felt their opinion of the vaccine was “now even better with the addition of the new data”.  

The original call to hold off on administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to over 65s was met with criticism, as around three-quarters of the 1.4 million doses delivered to Germany have remained in cold storage, despite the European Medicines Agency approving the use of the vaccine on anyone over the age of 18. 

Other European countries, including France and Italy, had also suggested the vaccine may be ineffective in older people, citing insufficient data to say otherwise.

This has caused issues for the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, as valuable doses have been piling up due to public scepticism. 

However, recent studies out of Scotland have disputed the claims that the AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective than the more widespread Pfizer alternative. 

Research led by Public Health Scotland found that four weeks after their first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, hospital admissions were down by 94%. In those who received the Pfizer vaccine, there were 85% fewer hospital administrations.

In people over 80, when results for both vaccines were combined, an overall 81% reduction in hospital admissions was recorded. 

It is believed that these results may play some part in Germany’s willingness to retract their original recommendations. 

“I think Germany will also reverse course soon,” Prof Watzl told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme.

“In order for us to reach our vaccination goals we need people to get this vaccine.

“We do know that the vaccine works in that age group. The recent data from Scotland clearly show it elicits an immune response, the elderly are protected from severe disease by this vaccine.”

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