‘Quasi-ineffective’: What EU leaders said about Oxford jab – and the data forcing a rethink
Written by Hit Music Radio News on 02/03/2021
European countries are revising their refusal to give older people the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine following the release of fresh data.
The vaccine, developed with Oxford University, has suffered rollout setbacks and doses are languishing after nearly half of the EU‘s members limited its use to under 65s.
It was approved for all adults by the EU’s drugs regulator but it is up to each member to set out its own policy, with many saying the initial trial did not have enough data on the effectiveness on over 65s.
France’s partial U-turn came hours after fresh data published by Public Health England (PHE) based on the UK’s vaccine rollout showed protection against symptomatic COVID in those over 70, four weeks after the first jab, ranged between 60-73% and 57-61% for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
The study found one dose of either vaccine is more than 80% effective at preventing those over 80 years old from being admitted to hospital three to four weeks after the first jab.
Sky News looks at which EU countries have restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine.
Emmanuel Macron was one of the vaccine’s most vociferous critics, calling it “quasi-ineffective” for the elderly.
Ainsi les personnes entre 65 et 74 ans pourront désormais se faire vacciner en allant voir leur médecin. Nous débuterons par celles qui sont porteuses de fragilité.
— Olivier Véran (@olivierveran) March 1, 2021
At the end of January, having ordered 1.1 million doses, Mr Macron said: “The real problem on AstraZeneca is that it doesn’t work the way we were expecting it to.
“We’re waiting for the EMA [European Medicines Agency] results, but today everything points to thinking it is quasi-ineffective on people older than 65, some say those 60 years or older.”
France’s Europe minister, Clement Beaune, then said the UK was taking “a lot of risks” by having a 12-week gap between the two doses and said French citizens would not stand for this type of gamble, even though scientists have approved the method.
Scepticism towards vaccines has been high in France for a few decades, with a very low COVID-19 vaccine take-up compared with its neighbours and just a quarter of its AstraZeneca vaccines administered by Friday.
In an attempt to restore public trust in the AstraZeneca vaccine Mr Macron has now said he would take it if he was offered it.
The efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine in older people started being publicly questioned by European countries after a German newspaper claimed it was only 8% effective on the over-65s.
Handelsblatt’s story, which it stood by, was attributed to a single anonymous government source with no explanation of how the number was calculated.
It came in the week that the EMA was due to decide whether to authorise the vaccine, which it did on 29 January – although with a warning that data for over 55s was limited.
Germany then recommended the vaccine should not be used for people over 65, saying there was a lack of reliable efficacy data on this age group.
Like France, Germany’s vaccine rollout has been much slower than the UK’s, with purchased vaccines lying unused.
German officials said a key reason for the low uptake was the age restriction and a growing number of leading politicians are now calling for the rule to be relaxed, which is expected to happen soon.
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission president, had a very public spat with AstraZeneca over gaining more of its vaccine doses.
She then suggested the UK had compromised on “safety and efficacy” by approving the jab so early, despite the EMA reaching the same conclusions as the UK’s internationally-respected MHRA which approved the vaccine.
The Commission has been criticised over the slow pace of immunisation across the bloc, with critics saying it failed to secure sufficient early supply.
In late February, Ms von der Leyen changed her tune as officials rushed to ensure doses did not go to waste.
“I would take the AstraZeneca vaccine without a second thought, just like Moderna’s and BioNTech/Pfizer’s products,” she told Germany’s Augsburger Allgemeine newspaper.
Which other European countries have restricted the AstraZeneca vaccine?
Greece, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden (where AstraZeneca is based along with the UK), Poland and Austria have all blocked its use in over-65s.
Norway, which is not in the EU but is in the European Economic Area, has also blocked its use on under 65s.
Italy initially limited the jab to under 55s but at the end of February raised that to adults up to 65 years old.
Belgium and Spain have limited it to under 55s.
Switzerland, which is not in the EU but is in the single market, has rejected the AstraZeneca jab as it said the trial data is “not yet sufficient”.
© Sky News 2020