The European Medicines Agency has approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for use in adults. The vaccine is the third to be given approval from the regulator.
The news comes after the Standing Committee on Vaccination at the Robert Koch Institute, the German governmental public health agency, advised against using the vaccine to immunise people older than 65, citing a lack of data.
The CEO of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, told La Republica that the company’s vaccine produced a “very strong antibody production against the virus in the elderly, similar to what we see in younger people.” The Chief Executive of the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), Dr June Raine, echoed his sentiment saying “Current evidence does not suggest any lack of protection against Covid-19 in people aged 65 or over. The data we have shows that the vaccine produces a strong immune response in the over-65s.”
The EU has purchased over 2.3 billion vaccine doses for its 446 million inhabitants, equalling around five doses per person. Some vaccines, including the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines, require two doses injected a few weeks apart to produce more complete immunity.
400 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine have been purchased by the EU for use in its member states and the European Economic Area. The EU ordered 80 million doses to be produced by the end of March. However, AstraZeneca has suffered delays at their production plants in the EU, meaning they will only be able to produce 61 million doses in that timeframe.
The EU has asked AstraZeneca to provide them with vaccines produced in the UK to make up for this shortfall. Stella Kyriakides, the European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, as argued that the bloc’s contract with AstraZeneca gave them access to vaccines produced at two plants in the UK. Soriot has rejected her calls to divert doses from the UK, arguing that the company’s contract with the EU only obliged it to make “best efforts” to fulfil its order and that the UK could claim any vaccines produced in British plants first.
The EU has received criticism for its slow vaccination programme, which has forced hospitals in Paris and Madrid to cancel or delay patients’ appointments to receive their first dose. As of January 28th, Denmark has the highest vaccination rate in the EU having administered 3.95 doses per 100 people. The UK has issued 12.33 doses per 100 people. Israel has the highest dosage rate in the world, at 52.64 doses per 100 people.