Four in Five Oxford COVID Jabs Delivered to EU Not Yet Used
Four out of five of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine doses delivered to EU countries are yet to be used, a Guardian investigation has found, as Angela Merkel admitted to an “acceptance problem” among Europeans being offered the jab.
Using data extracted from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and other official sources, it is estimated that 4,849,752 of the 6,134,707 doses distributed among the 27 member states have not yet been administered.
The decision by authorities in France, Germany, Poland and Italy to recommend use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine only for people under 65 is likely to be a significant factor in its slow administration, with authorities failing to redirect jabs to younger people.
But in an interview with the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Merkel conceded that the vaccine was also being rejected by people concerned over its efficacy and safety after a slew of bad publicity.
“There is … currently an acceptance problem with the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Merkel said. “AstraZeneca is a reliable vaccine, effective and safe, approved by the European Medicines Agency and recommended in Germany up to the age of 65 years. All the authorities tell us that this vaccine can be trusted. As long as vaccines are as scarce as they are now, you cannot choose what to vaccinate with.”
Asked whether she would volunteer to be administered with the vaccine, Merkel said: “I am 66 years old and I do not belong to the recommended group for AstraZeneca.”
Later on Thursday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said he would gladly accept an AstraZeneca dose if it were offered when his turn for vaccination comes.
“In view of the latest scientific studies, the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been proven,” Macron said. “My turn will come, but I’ve got time. If that’s the vaccine that’s offered to me, I will take it, of course.”
Last month Macron caused some consternation when he suggested without substance that the AstraZeneca vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” in over-65s.
Data analysed by the Guardian, while vulnerable to a short time lag in reporting by member states, highlights some eye-catching discrepancies between the amount of AstraZeneca vaccine available in member states and its administration to the population.
Belgium has received 201,600 AstraZeneca doses and administered just 9,832 (4%), according to the ECDC, an EU agency. Bulgaria received 117,600 doses and administered 2,035 (1.73%), while Germany has received 1,452,000 doses and administered 189,206 (13%).
According to the ECDC, Italy has had 499,200 AstraZeneca doses delivered and its health practitioners have given just 96,621 jabs (19%).
In contrast, four out of five of the Pfizer vaccine doses supplied to Belgium (81%), Italy (80%) and Germany (82%) have been administered, the ECDC data suggests.
France has not submitted data to the ECDC on how many of its 1,137,600 Oxford/AstraZeneca doses it has administered, but figures provided by the vaccine tracker website Covidtracker.fr estimates the figure at just 125,859 (11%).
Prof Alain Fischer, the “Monsieur Vaccin” overseeing France’s vaccination programme, told a press conference in Paris on Thursday that the AstraZeneca vaccine had received an “unjustifiably bad press”. The latest data showed it was “at least as effective” as the Pfizer and Moderna jabs and entirely safe, he said, adding: “This is a very good vaccine and should be used by everyone who is offered it, without hesitation.”
The EU’s vaccination rollout has been heavily criticised owing to a lack of supply in recent months, with reported shortfalls in production by AstraZeneca, Moderna and Pfizer.
However, the data suggests pejorative comments about AstraZeneca, along with the decision by some regulatory authorities to recommend use for only the younger age groups until more data is available, has also had a significant impact.
The European Medicines Agency approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in all age groups, but some national bodies have advised against use in the older age ranges given the lack of data available on efficacy at the time.
Dr June Raine, the chief executive of the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, defended its decision to approve for all ages at the time, noting that “current evidence does not suggest any lack of protection against Covid-19 in people aged 65”, and adding that it produced “a strong immune response in the over-65s”.
The vaccine is in widespread use in the UK along with that produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, with preliminary data showing high levels of efficacy among older people.
Prof Thomas Mertens, who chairs Germany’s standing commission on vaccination, which advised Merkel’s government in January on not using AstraZeneca in the older age groups, told BBC Radio 4’s Today problem that lack of uptake in his country was “a problem no doubt at the moment”.
He said: “It is true, unfortunately. We are working quite hard on this point to try and convince people to accept the vaccine and to build up again the trust in the vaccine in the population. But as you know this is some kind of psychological problem too and it will unfortunately take some time to reach this goal.”
Asked whether his committee’s advice was to blame, he told the BBC: “It may be part of the problem although we always stated it had nothing to do with the safety of the vaccine; we never criticised the vaccine for being unsafe.
“We stated that the amount of data for this group of elderly people was not really great, it was quite small at the time, when we had to give the recommendation. But I don’t think that was the major problem. The major problem was the news spread about the efficacy of the vaccine being much lower than the mRNA vaccines [for example Pfizer’s] that started earlier.”
Source: The Guardian