Germany’s vaccine committee has recommended AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine should not be given to people over 65 due to a lack of sufficient data.
AstraZeneca and Oxford University have dismissed the claims and Public Health England has stated the vaccine provides safe and high levels of protection.
The European Medicines Agency is expected to make a decision on whether to approve AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine on Friday.
So what do we know about the data?
What Germany says
The German health ministry said in a draft recommendation that only 6% of participants in the trials were over 65, with 341 having the AstraZeneca vaccine and 319 receiving a placebo.
One infection was recorded in each group, creating a high confidence interval that the German authorities describe in their report as “no longer statistically significant”.
The committee said: “Any assessment about the efficacy of the vaccination among the highest age group [75 and over] therefore comes with a high level of uncertainty.”
The statement added: “There are currently insufficient data available to assess the vaccine efficacy from 65 years of age.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine, unlike the mRNA vaccines, should only be offered to people aged 18-64 years at each stage.”
What does the UK say?
PHE said the vaccine provides reassuring immune responses in elderly people even though the precise level of protection is patchy.
Britain, which was the first country to approve the vaccine, is already rolling out AstraZeneca’s shot alongside one developed by Pfizer and BioNTech.
“Both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines are safe and provide high levels of protection against COVID-19, particularly against severe disease,” Mary Ramsay, head of immunisations at PHE said in a statement.
“There were too few cases in older people in the AstraZeneca trials to observe precise levels of protection in this group, but data on immune responses were very reassuring.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson responded to the news by arguing the vaccine “provides a good immune response across all age groups.”
Asked when he was concerned about the verdict, he replied: “No, because I think the MHRA, our own authorities, have made it very clear that they think the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is very good and efficacious, gives a high degree of protection after just one dose and even more after two doses.
“And the evidence they’ve supplied is they think it’s effective across all age groups and provides a good immune response across all age groups. I don’t agree with that.”
What does AstraZeneca say?
AstraZeneca has already denied that its jab is not as effective for people over 65, after German media reports earlier this week said officials feared the vaccine may not be approved in the European Union for use in the elderly.
Downing Street backed the German health ministry’s denial of the reports.
“In November, we published data in the Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100% of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose,” a spokesperson said.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said the company had less data than other drugmakers 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.
What does the data show?
In November, data published in The Lancet medical journal said the vaccine had been shown to trigger a robust immune response in healthy adults aged 56-69 and those over 70 years of age.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has been shown to be around 70% effective.
Around four-fifths of people aged 80 and over in most regions of England have now received their first dose of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
A total of 6,918,853 vaccinations had taken place in England between December 8 and January 27, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 252,992 on the previous day’s figures.
What does Oxford say?
Back in November, Dr Angela Minassian, investigator at the University of Oxford and Honorary Consultant in Infectious Diseases said regarding the findings: “Inducing robust immune responses in older adults has been a long-standing challenge in human vaccine research.
“To show this vaccine technology is able to induce these responses, in the age group most at risk from severe Covid-19 disease, offers hope that vaccine efficacy will be similar in younger and older adults.”
And responding to the reports from earlier in the week, a spokesperson for the university said: “Preliminary efficacy data in older adults supports the importance of this vaccine for use in this population.”