Germany could lift AstraZeneca vaccine age limit in revamp of ‘very bad’ campaign

Calls to give British-made drug to anyone who wants it after initial snub

Germany could overhaul its inoculation campaign by recommending the AstraZeneca-Oxford University vaccine for use in older people after the regulator admitted its advice on the drug was flawed.

Thomas Mertens, head of Germany’s Standing Committee on Vaccination (Stiko), said the country would likely change controversial guidelines against giving the vaccine to over-65s, saying the campaign had gone “very badly” since the announcement.

French and German authorities are struggling to convince people that AstraZeneca’s drug is safe, with stocks of the vaccine going unused in both countries.

Mr Mertens promised “a new, updated recommendation very soon” after “the whole thing went very badly”.

“We had the data that we had and based on this data we made the recommendation. But we never criticised the vaccine. We only criticised the fact that the data situation for the age group over 65 was not good or not sufficient,” he told Germany’s ZDF news network.

About three-quarters of the 1.4 million doses delivered to Germany by AstraZeneca are sitting in cold storage.

Vaccine centres stocked with the AstraZeneca shot have also been pictured empty.

Markus Soder, the premier of Bavaria, was among German leaders demanding that the shot be made available to everyone who wants it, bypassing priority status given to the elderly and some key workers.

“Not a single AstraZeneca dose should be left over or thrown out,” he told daily newspaper Bild.

“Before that happens: vaccinate anyone who wants it. Every day counts.”

The leader of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Winfried Kretschmann, said Germany could not afford to have vaccines going unused because some people are snubbing it.

German authorities have been struggling to convince people that the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine is safe. Getty Images
German authorities have been struggling to convince people that the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine is safe. Getty Images

"In that case, we should loosen our strict regulations and vaccinate people even if it's not their turn yet under the priority guidelines," he said.

State leaders will discuss the vaccine strategy at a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday.

Ms Merkel last week praised the AstraZeneca drug as “a vaccine that can be trusted” and urged Germans not to pick and choose their vaccines.

When asked if she would lead by example and take the vaccine, Merkel replied that she was not eligible for this particular shot, given that she was 66 years old.

The question is sure to re-emerge, however, if Germany's vaccine commission does decide to recommend the shot for those aged 65 and over.

Germany’s disease control centre reported 4,732 new coronavirus cases on Monday with a further 60 deaths, bringing Germany’s overall pandemic death toll to 70,105.

Updated: March 1, 2021 08:56 PM

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