April 15, 2021
Syringes filled with doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine at a private medical practice in the state of Brandenburg.

Germany vaccine body says over-65s should get AstraZeneca jab

Body updates guidance in light of studies proving vaccine’s efficacy – and endorses UK model of 12-week gap between doses

Germany’s vaccination committee has reversed its guidance not to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab to over-65s in light of new studies proving the vaccine’s efficacy, promising to unblock a bottleneck in the country’s immunisation campaign.

The country’s standing commission on vaccination on Thursday confirmed it had updated its guidance on the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company’s product and also recommended following the British model of stretching out the first and second doses by up to three months, rather than six weeks as previously advised.

“This is good news for older people who are waiting for a vaccine. They can now be vaccinated more quickly,” the German health ministry said in a statement. “We will shortly issue a regulation implementing both recommendations.”

While the European Medicines Agency (EMA) cleared the University of Oxford-developed shot for all adults in January, Germany was among several European countries that advised limiting its use because of a lack of clinical trial data on its efficacy in the over-65 age group.

The decision further hampered Germany’s already stuttering vaccination drive, fanning doubts about AstraZeneca’s ability to protect people against the virus that had been sparked by misleading reports in the German press, the emergence of a more resilient South African variant and the US regulator’s hesitancy in approving the product for use.

The vaccination committee’s caution also wrongfooted regional authorities that had started to gear their efforts towards contacting and vaccinating elderly people, with reports of thousands of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine piling up in storage across Germany.

The Oxford jab has the advantage of being able to be stored at fridge temperature, meaning it can be administered more easily via doctor’s practices than those produced by Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the heads of the country’s 16 federal states had called on the standing commission to “urgently” adjust its guidance at the end of a summit on Wednesday night.

At their gathering, the politicians agreed to continue the country’s lockdown until 28 March while gradually lifting several restrictions in accordance with a complex mechanism – a move that is seen as a reaction to mounting lockdown fatigue rather than the pandemic’s current dynamic.

Florists, bookshops, gardening stores and beauty parlours will open from Monday, and up to five people from two households will be allowed to gather, with children under 14 exempt.

Further shops will reopen provided that regional case numbers are below 50 per 100,000 people. But if cases rise above 50 per 100,000, customers will have to book slots to visit shops. If cases rise to more than 100 per 100,000 over three days in a row, restrictions will be reimposed.

Three weeks ago Merkel and allies had still held up a seven-day rate of 35 – as opposed to 50 – infections per 100,000 people as the crucial threshold for reopening. But as the curve of new cases began to flatline and then gradually rise again, the government lowered its ambitions.

Those pushing for an exit from lockdown argue that almost half of those in the priority group of vulnerable people the government is trying to shield from the virus have already been vaccinated, and the number of overall deaths continues to follow a downward trend.