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AstraZeneca vaccine OK for over-65s after all: Germany

March 4, 2021

German health authorities have approved AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine for people aged 65 and older, going back on their earlier verdict. Sweden has followed in Germany's footsteps by approving the jab for the age group.

An AstraZeneca needle
AstraZeneca has experienced production delays for its vaccineImage: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/J. Porzycki

Germany's independent Standing Committee on Vaccination (Stiko) said on Thursday that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be administered to older people.

Germany had originally balked at approving the vaccine for those aged 65 and over due to efficacy concerns. 

However, new data — and quite possibly the faltering national attempts to start vaccinating — caused German health authorities to change their minds. 

Stiko also advised waiting 12 weeks between administering the first and second AstraZeneca shots, after studies showed a longer gap increased the vaccine's efficacy.

"This is good news for all the elderly people waiting for a vaccination. It means they can get vaccinated sooner," said Health Minister Jens Spahn. "We will shortly issue a regulation implementing both recommendations."

Why wasn't the vaccine approved earlier?

Along with the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, and the Moderna vaccine, AstraZeneca's formula is approved for use in the European Union. The World Health Organization has also recommended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for everyone aged 18 and over

However, several countries, including Germany, restricted its use citing a lack of data on efficacy in older people.

During AstraZeneca's clinical trials, most of the participants were between 18 and 55 years old. AstraZeneca said in the write-up of its results that "vaccine efficacy in older age groups could not be assessed."

However, data published this week from England's vaccination program has showed that both AstraZeneca and the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccines are around 60% effective in preventing symptomatic COVID cases in people over 70 after just a single dose. 

When will doses be available?

The initial concerns over the vaccine's efficacy were raised in the heat of a disagreement between the EU and the pharmaceutical company over its deal to supply doses of the vaccine to the bloc. 

AstraZeneca has had to halve its first quarter delivery estimates to the EU from 90 million doses to 40 million doses by the end of March. 

However, the restrictions in Germany mean that there is a stockpile of around 2 million doses, even as people struggle for access. 

Spahn said that Stiko's recommendations on the AstraZeneca vaccine will be swiftly added to Germany's vaccine rules.

During discussions Wednesday, Germany's leaders supported overhauling the country's vaccine policy to allow more people to get the shots sooner. 

Sweden follows suit

Swedish health authorities also gave the green light for AstraZeneca's vaccine for people over the age of 65 on Thursday.

Until now, Sweden had recommended use of the vaccine for people under the age of 65 as it waited for more research to be carried out.

"There are now three studies conducted in Britain on the AstraZeneca vaccine which show it is as effective as other vaccines that have been approved and works for people even over the age of 80," the health agency said in a statement.

France, Belgium and Italy loosened age restrictions for the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this week.

wmr, jsi/nm (Reuters, AP, AFP)