Thomas Mertens, head of Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccination (Stiko), said on Friday updated coronavirus vaccine guidelines including the AstraZeneca jabs will be coming “very soon”. Despite the UK and European Medicines Agency approving the Oxford vaccines for use, Stiko chose not to authorise jabs for over-65s – leading to a low uptake.
Mr Mertens said on Friday Stiko would update its recommendation on the Oxford jab “very soon”, saying it was “possible” over-65s would be cleared to take it.
In an interview with German broadcaster ZDF, he defended Stiko’s initial ruling on the vaccine, and pointed to a lack of data available at the time.
He said: “We never criticised the vaccine, we just criticised the lack of data for the over-65 age group.”
But he then admitted the distinction between the vaccines efficacy and a lack of data was lost on the German public, and added: “The whole thing has somehow gone wrong.”
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Germany, despite procuring 1.17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, has administered less than 300,000 doses.
The low uptake of doses has been partially blamed on German media reports claiming the AstraZeneca vaccine had low efficacy in over-65s, with economic newspaper Handelsblatt saying last month the “AstraZeneca vaccine apparently hardly effective in seniors”.
Their reported cited an anonymous Government source who claimed the jab was only eight percent effective in the elderly, and added: “The Government’s vaccination strategy is shaky.”
An anonymous British Government source responded to the claims in POLITICO and said: “Eight percent is the percentage of people over 65 in the study, but not the efficacy. Not sure if the reporter got mixed up.”
An AstraZeneca spokesperson also described the reported figure as “completely incorrect.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also became embroiled in the row, when she said to broadcast Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung she could not accept an Oxford jab as she was not in the recommended age group despite calling it “effective and safe”.
The Chancellor said: “I am 66 years old and I do not belong to the group recommended for AstraZeneca.”
She then added: “In addition to the particularly vulnerable and elderly, I think it is correct to first invite population groups who cannot keep a distance in their jobs to be vaccinated.
“A daycare educator, a primary school teacher cannot do that. These are the people who should get a turn before someone like me.”
It comes as Carsten Watzl, head of the German Society for Immunology, has urged Germany to allow over-65s to take the AstraZeneca vaccine.
He said to the BBC: “We do know that the vaccine works in that age group.
“The recent data from Scotland clearly show it elicits an immune response, the elderly are protected from severe disease by this vaccine.”
Alain Fischer, chairman of France’s vaccine strategy orientation council, also said the country would “re-adjust our vaccine strategy”.
Emmanuel Macron, French President, previously branded the AstraZeneca vaccine as “quasi-effective” before later back-peddling on his claims and saying he would take the jab if offered.
Both Mr Watzl and Mr Fischer touted new data from a real-world study in Scotland which showed the AstraZeneca jab’s use reduced hospital admissions by 94 percent.
Germany has recorded a total of 2,438,302 cases and 70,467 deaths, while France has recorded 3,712,020 and 86,147 respectively.
The two EU member states have been criticised for their slow vaccine roll out, with around 5.72 million Germans receiving at least one dose as of yesterday and around 4.11 million French people having at least on as of February 24.
In contrast, 19,682,048 Brits have received at least their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, equalling around 29.5 percent of the nation.
Yesterday saw another 7,434 cases and 290 deaths within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, for a total of 4,170,519m and 122,705 respectively.