German vaccine committee recommends no AstraZeneca jab for over-65s

European Medicines Agency due to decide on vaccine on Friday

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine should only be given to people aged under 65, Germany’s vaccine committee said in an update to its vaccine recommendation, citing a lack of sufficient data to recommend use in older age groups.

“There are currently insufficient data available to assess the vaccine efficacy from 65 years of age,” the committee said in the resolution made available by the German health ministry on Thursday.

"The AstraZeneca vaccine, unlike the mRNA vaccines, should only be offered to people aged 18-64 years at each stage."

The European Medicines Agency was expected to make a decision on whether to approve AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine on Friday. First doses of the vaccine have already been widely administered in the North and it is seen as key to vaccination plans in the Republic.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on Monday that the vaccination of over-70s in the Republic would start next month, assuming the authorisation of the AstraZeneca vaccine by the EMA on Friday.

Under the Government strategy, he said, older people will be vaccinated through GPs in their surgeries in the following order: 85 and older; then 80-84; 75-7, and 70-74. He said the Health Service Executive (HSE) was preparing a public information campaign with all the necessary details so that “everyone knows when, where and how to access their vaccine”.

However, Mr Donnelly warned the delivery of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the State would be “at the lower end” of expectations for February and would be “considerably lower” than had been assumed for March given the figures originally stated by the company for the month.

New timeline

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday night that the European Union was taking a hard line in demanding that AstraZeneca honoured its contract to deliver vaccines to the bloc amid a row over the numbers due to be made available. The product was expected to be authorised for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Friday, which would allow Ireland to start using it from next week.

Mr Donnelly has told TDs in a letter that, following a decision on AstraZeneca this week, he would be publishing a new provisional timeline for the vaccination of all groups. However it is unclear how Thursday’s developments will impact on this.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been hailed as a potential game-changer because it can be transported and stored at 2 degrees to 8 degrees for up to six months, making it much easier to move around and administer. It is also much cheaper, costing about $3-4 per shot, compared with $20 for the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, with the former being made on a not-for-profit basis for the duration of the pandemic.

Commission plans

To defend EU vaccine deliveries, the European Commission plans to introduce an oversight system to compel vaccine producers to notify authorities when they wish to export doses made in the bloc out of the EU. In certain circumstances, permission for the export could be refused, according to officials.

“It’s about ensuring that the doses that we paid for are provided to our citizens,” an EU official said.

“It is in our clear interest to know where doses made in Europe might be ending up... There is a possibility in certain circumstances not to allow the exports to move forward.”

Humanitarian exports and those under the Covax agreement to deliver doses to developing countries would not be affected, officials said.

“Any exporting company would send in to the national authorities their plan of what to export, when, to whom, and what amount. The national authorities would then be allowed to check that and then give an authorisation or refusal,” an EU official said.

On Wednesday, Belgian authorities sent inspectors into the AstraZeneca factory blamed for production delays, and took samples and records from the plant.

Belgian authorities said the inspection was done at the behest of the European commission, but a commission spokesman would neither confirm nor deny this. – Additional reporting Reuters