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Germany to reverse course and give AstraZeneca vaccine to over-65s

3 min read

Angela Merkel has previously said she would not take AstraZeneca's jab because it was not recommended for her as a 66-year-old - CLEMENS BILAN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock 

Angela Merkel has previously said she would not take AstraZeneca’s jab because it was not recommended for her as a 66-year-old – CLEMENS BILAN/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Germany is expected to make the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine available to over-65s on Thursday after Angela Merkel called for a reversal of its previous policy.

The country’s independent vaccine committee is set to issue a new recommendation that the jab be made available to over-65s.

The move comes after Mrs Merkel and regional leaders called on the Standing Vaccination Committee (Stiko) to overturn its previous ban in the light of new data from a Scottish government study.

The jab is currently only authorised for under-65s in Germany because of concerns over a lack of reliable data on its effectiveness in older people.

But in a joint statement with regional leaders, Mrs Merkel said the results of the Scottish study meant that policy should now be overturned.

“The study results from the UK show the AstraZeneca vaccine is generally highly effective including in elderly people,” they said in a statement on Wednesday night.

“The federal and state governments expect a new decision from the Stiko to recommend the vaccine for over-65s in the short-term, so vaccine appointments can be adjusted and the vaccine can be delivered swiftly.”

The AstraZeneca vaccine - YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/ AFP

The AstraZeneca vaccine – YASSER AL-ZAYYAT/ AFP

The Stiko had already indicated it was preparing to change its recommendation as soon as next week, but the statement was a clear signal Mrs Merkel and the regional leaders wanted it to hurry up.

There are concerns the current policy has fuelled German public reluctance to take the AstraZeneca jab. By Monday, the country had only been able to administer 514,000 of the 3.2m jabs delivered by AstraZeneca.

Germany is also to follow the UK’s lead in allowing up to 12 weeks between first and second jabs so vaccinations can be rolled out quicker.

“In order to offer a vaccination to citizens as soon as possible, the doses held back for the second jab should be significantly reduced and the maximum interval between the first and second jabs authorised for each vaccine should be permitted,” the statement said.

In the case of the AstraZeneca vaccine, an interval of up to 12 weeks is permitted. The statement suggests Germany will not follow Britain’s lead in ignoring the shorter recommended interval for the rival Pfizer vaccine.

Mrs Merkel’s government has been under pressure over widespread reports Germans were refusing the AstraZeneca vaccine. The chancellor herself has consistently defended the vaccine.

But briefings against it by someone inside her government at the height of the row between the EU and AstraZeneca are likely to have done far more to damage its reputation than the Stiko ruling.

An unidentified source thought to be close to Jens Spahn, the health minister, told a German newspaper the ministry had data suggesting the jab had an effectiveness of less than 10 per cent in older people — something the Stiko never suggested. That has since been shown to be completely false.

There are indications that German public reluctance to take the AstraZeneca vaccine is abating in the face of the latest data. In some states, 90 per cent of appointments for the jab booked out within hours of opening to the second category of at-risk workers this week, and long queues for the jab were reported at vaccination centres.

The slow roll-out has not been entirely down to public resistance. Germany’s largest state, North Rhine-Westphalia, deliberately staggered it for medical workers to prevent too many taking time off sick with side effects at the same time — the jab causes mild and harmless flu-like symptoms in some people.

And the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein admitted this week its vaccination software had to be reprogrammed to include the AstraZeneca jab.

There have been widespread reports that bureaucratic snarl-ups are slowing the roll-out across Germany.

In many states the vaccination process is not digitised and people have to call a telephone hotline to get an appointment. There are also reports of elderly people waiting for hours on the phone only to be told they have been put on a waiting list when they finally get through.

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