Germany, Sweden Clear Astra’s Covid Shot for Elderly
(Bloomberg) -- Germany and Sweden joined countries widening guidelines for AstraZeneca Plc’s coronavirus vaccine, saying recent data now support giving the shot to the elderly.
The ruling by Germany’s immunization commission, which recommended the vaccine for people aged 65 and above, “is good news for any elderly people waiting for vaccination,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in an emailed statement.
The decisions, which follow France’s earlier this week, could accelerate the roll-out of vaccines across Europe, especially since the Astra shot can be more easily stored and transported than those from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. The European Union lags behind the U.S. and the U.K. in coronavirus immunizations.
While Astra’s vaccine was approved for all adults by the European Medicines Agency in January, at least 10 countries opted to restrict access because of a lack of clinical trial results for the elderly. Those policies are changing now that real-world data has started showing the shot works for all age groups.
Information taken from hundreds of thousands of immunized people in Scotland the week of Feb. 22, for example, found the vaccine reduced hospitalization by 94%.
Chancellor Angela Merkel signaled her support for such a step late Wednesday after talks with regional state leaders on loosening Germany’s lockdown restrictions. “It is likely that the immunization commission will allow AstraZeneca also for higher age groups, and we will gladly comply with that,” she said.
Germany will also look to accelerate its vaccination program, using the maximum time allotted between first and second doses to get more people some level of protection from the disease, she said.
“We want to be as flexible as possible, as we know we’re in a race against time,” Merkel said.
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Greece’s vaccination commission is also expected to approve the use of the Astra vaccine for seniors, Aristotelia Peloni, a government spokeswoman, said Thursday. Sweden announced a similar step, with a public health spokeswoman citing new data on the shot from England and Scotland.
France was first to expand the Astra guidelines this week, with Health Minister Olivier Veran saying in a TV interview that all three approved vaccines in Europe show “remarkable efficacy.”
The decision to limit the availability of the Astra shot drew criticism, with some arguing the policy undermined public confidence in the shot, but Germany’s STIKO commission defended it in a statement Thursday, saying it was the right call at the time considering the available data.
Germany’s decision was first reported by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
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