Use Oxford jab only for under 65s: Germany

Caroline Copley and Ludwig Burger
·2-min read

AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine should only be given to people aged between 18 and 64, Germany's vaccine committee has recommended.

The recommendation for Germany comes as the European Union, which is scrambling for vaccine supplies, warned AstraZeneca to deliver shots as promised despite a shortfall in its first-quarter vaccine output caused by a glitch in its European supply chain.

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

The European Union approved a vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech in late December and gave the green light to a shot made by Moderna in early January, both based on so-called mRNA technology.

The bloc's drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), is due to issue a recommendation on AstraZeneca's vaccine, co-developed by Oxford University, on Friday.

STIKO said that, apart from the age caveat for the AstraZeneca product, all three were equally suited for use.

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

On Monday, the drug maker 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 EU for use in the elderly.

A person with knowledge of EMA's regulatory procedures said that the watchdog - while set to state a positive risk-benefit ratio overall - will likely point to a lack of data on the elderly and leave it up to member states to decide whether to omit or include that demographic in their immunisation campaigns for now.

"I don't think there will be restrictions by age group," the source said.

Only 5.7 per cent of the 11,636 trial participants included in the analysis were 65 years or older, data released by STIKO showed.

Within the older cohort, one of 341 vaccinated people and one in a control group of 319 people without the vaccine became infected with the coronavirus, making a statistically reliable conclusion impossible.

AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said the company had less data than other drug makers 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, referring to blood analysis.

AstraZeneca on Thursday said the latest analyses of clinical trial data support efficacy in those over 65.

"We await a regulatory decision on the vaccine by the EMA in the coming days," it added.