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AstraZeneca rejects German reports of low vaccine efficacy

January 26, 2021

The British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant said German media reports claiming that the vaccine had an 8% efficacy rate in people above 65 were "completely incorrect."

A German "vaccine passport" lying next to a pair of needles
Two leading German newspapers reported the low efficacy figures for seniors, but the company dismisses them as inaccurateImage: Firn/Zoonar/picture alliance

Pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has dismissed reports in German media claiming that the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine was largely ineffective on elderly people above 65.

"Reports that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine efficacy is as low as 8% in adults over 65 years are completely incorrect," an AstraZeneca spokesperson told DW in a written response. The company said that an influential UK vaccination committee, the JCVI, and the UK's national MHRA medicines regulator supported the use of its vaccine on that particular age group.

"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," AstraZeneca's spokesperson said.

The firm's response followed reports in Handelsblatt and Bild, two German daily newspapers. Both cited unnamed members of Germany's government as saying that the vaccine had a poor efficacy rate among people above 65. Bild put the figure at "less than 10%," Handelsblatt at 8%. The newspapers further reported that German government officials didn't expect the vaccine to be approved for use on over-65s by the European Medicines Agency regulator as a result. 

The German Health Ministry also contradicted the claim, suggesting that the source for the 8% figure must have mixed up their numbers.

"At first glance, it appears that two things have been confused in the reports: About 8% of the subjects in the AstraZeneca efficacy study were between 56 and 69 years of age, and only 3 to 4% were over 70 years of age," a spokesperson said. 

"However, this does not infer an efficacy of only 8% in the elderly."

Vials of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine
The newspapers didn't name their sources but put them either inside or close to the German governmentImage: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Bild and Handelsblatt had said that the German government was originally planning to use the AstraZeneca vaccine for people who couldn't come to centers to be vaccinated, as it is relatively easier to transport and store. Unlike mRNA-based vaccines like those created by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, the AstraZeneca shots do not need to be stored at negative 70 degrees Celsius (negative 94 Fahrenheit).

A blow at a difficult time

The reports come at a time when AstraZeneca is falling far short of its COVID-19 vaccine delivery obligations to the EU. Talks with the EU fell apart on Monday, with further discussions on the matter scheduled for this week.

Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for health and food safety, said on Tuesday that vaccine developers had to uphold "societal and contractual responsibilities" when it came to delivering vaccines.

AstraZeneca sought EMA regulatory approval for its vaccine last month. A spokesman for Germany's Health Ministry said on Monday that he expected a decision from the EMA by the end of the week. German Health Minister Jens Spahn told public broadcaster ZDF the decision would be based on "available data."

Oxford University and AstraZeneca joined forces to develop the vaccine.

Spahn calls for licensing vaccine exports

am/msh (Reuters)