Pharma giant AstraZeneca has defended the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine after media reports said the German government had doubts about its effectiveness among those over 65.
The Handelsblatt economic daily reported yesterday that Berlin had estimated the efficacy of the jab among over-65s was just 8%, citing sources.
Bild also said that Berlin did not expect the vaccine, which was developed with Oxford University and set to get the green light from the EU this week, would receive a licence for use in the elderly.
It quoted an efficacy rate of “less than 10%”.
But the company rejected the claims as erroneous.
“Reports that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine efficacy is as low as 8% in adults over 65 years are completely incorrect,” the firm said in a statement late last night.
“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,” it added.
Germany’s health ministry said it “appears that two things have been mixed up in the reports”.
“Around 8% of the volunteers in AstraZeneca’s efficacy studies were around 56 and 69 years old and 3-4% are above 70 years old,” said the ministry.
“However, this does not mean that it is effective only in 8% of older people,” it added.
The health ministry added that European regulator EMA will evaluate the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“It has been known since the autumn that fewer older people were involved in AstraZeneca’s first studies than in other manufacturers’,” it said.
The European Union issued an angry warning to AstraZeneca yesterday over its unexpected delay in delivering millions of doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to the bloc and threatening to block vaccine exports.
Last Friday, AstraZeneca said it would not meet its contractual delivery commitments to the EU because of unexplained “reduced yields” in its European supply chain.
The EU has currently authorised two vaccines for widespread distribution, manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
It was set to add the AstraZeneca vaccine to that list this week, on the understanding that it would be already on hand and available for immediate roll-out.
“This is not about blocking, this is about knowing…” European Commission spokes @MamerEric says the proposed mechanism to monitor what Covid vaccines are being exported from the EU is about “transparency”
— Tony Connelly (@tconnellyRTE) January 26, 2021
EU chief Ursula von der Leyen insisted today that companies producing vaccines “must deliver”.
“Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first Covid-19 vaccines,” she said in a live video address to an online-only version of the annual World Economic Forum usually held in Davos, Switzerland.
“And now, the companies must deliver. They must honour their obligations,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Minister for Health said the Government was very disappointed with the news from AstraZeneca.
Speaking on his way into Cabinet, Stephen Donnelly said: “There are ongoing talks with the company, both in terms of ensuring that we get as much volume is possible, particularly in the first quarter when it’s really, really important to vaccinate the most vulnerable.
“And secondly, I’m pushing to have it delivered before the agreed date, which is mid February, if it’s authorised before then.”
Irish MEPs urge transparency over vaccines
Dublin MEP Barry Andrews said it is time to “deescalate the row” between the EU and AstraZeneca.
Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “We need now to make sure that AstraZeneca and Pfizer provides the European Union with full transparency.
“We as MEPs have not seen any of the contracts, apart from one, and that was redacted.
“So we do not know exactly what has been promised [to vaccine firms] in terms of liability, we don’t know what’s been promised in terms of delivery, we don’t know what the price is, so there are a lot of unknowns.”
Ireland South MEP Billy Kelleher said “we have to find out definitively” whether AstraZeneca is “fulfillng its contractual obligations to the European Union in an impartial way – in other words, that it is not prioritising other countries for any other reasons”.
Speaking to Euronews, he said: “So we need to ensure that it is at capacity and is able to produce the vaccines that it said it could produce.
“And then we wait for approval hopeful this Friday from the European Medicines Agency that should allow the roll-out.”