Germany’s vaccine commission said the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine should not be given to people older than 65 years amid a bitter dispute between the European Union and the drug maker over delayed supplies.
The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) at Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country’s main public health authority, found there is insufficient data on the effectiveness of the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, for this age group, according to a statement from the interior ministry on Thursday.
In its recommendation, the panel said, “Due to the small number of study participants in the age group of above 65 years, no conclusion can be made regarding efficacy and safety in the elderly. This vaccine is therefore currently recommended by STIKO only for persons aged 18-64.”
Responding to the announcement, an AstraZeneca spokesperson said, “latest analysis of clinical trial data for the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine support efficacy in the over 65 years age group.” The drug maker is awaiting a regulatory decision by the European Union medicines regulator, the spokesperson added.
Thursday’s announcement by the German Interior-Ministry came amid an ongoing dispute between the European Union and AstraZeneca over delays to the delivery of its corona virus vaccine to the bloc.
AstraZeneca has said it can’t deliver as many doses as the EU expected, citing production challenges. But the European Commission, which ordered the vaccine on behalf of EU member states, says this is unacceptable, and the drug maker must find a way to increase supply.
The dispute comes as EU countries, including Germany, run low on vaccines. In Spain, the regional government of Madrid has paused administering the first doses of the vaccine, to ensure there is enough to provide second doses for those who already got their first shots.
Concerns over expected shortages of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines means some French regions, including Paris, will push back or cancel appointments for first injections, the French Health Ministry said in a press statement on Thursday.
The United Kingdom, whose regulator approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine nearly a month ago, has been administrating doses to people older than 65.
In its report, UK regulator MHRA said there was “limited information available on efficacy in participants aged 65 or over, although there is nothing to suggest lack of protection.”
Responding to the German announcement, MHRA Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said “current evidence does not suggest any lack of protection against COVID-19 in people aged 65 or over. The data we have shows that the vaccine produces a strong immune response in the over-65s. More data is continually becoming available for this age group and our Public Assessment Report, available on our website, will be updated to reflect this.”
The EU has ordered 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine which could be approved for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as soon as Friday with an option to purchase an additional 100 million doses.
AstraZeneca’s chief executive, Pascal Soriot, said in an interview with Italy’s Ia Repubblica newspaper Tuesday that “the issue with the elderly data is not so much whether it works or not. It’s that we have today a limited amount of data in the older population.”
Soriot said this was because the Oxford scientists running the vaccine trials did not want to recruit older people until they had “accumulated a lot of safety data” for those aged 18 to 55.
He said, “Essentially, because Oxford started vaccinating older people later, we don’t have a huge number of older people who have been vaccinated. So that’s what the debate is. But we have strong data showing very strong antibody production against the virus in the elderly, similar to what we see in younger people. It’s possible that some countries, out of caution, will use our vaccine for the younger group.”