If true, this is extraordinarily brutal, bad, and damaging news, not only in terms of the Coronavirus pandemic, and our ability to functionally protect the oldest and most vulnerable citizens – but also for public confidence in the vaccines themselves.
Here’s Gavin Reilly with the headline:
Fairly extensive – and likely well-briefed – reports in Germany this evening that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may have only 8% effectiveness on seniors https://t.co/Fy28oBjvhK
…leading the country’s biggest paper, Bild, to say it won’t be licensed for use in that age cohort
— Gavan Reilly (@gavreilly) January 25, 2021
But….. is there politics involved? The Daily Mail, never particularly fond of the Germans to begin with, certainly seems to think so:
The EU’s vaccine regulator is reportedly set to rejected the UK’s Oxford jab for over-65s, according to reports in Germany.
German federal chiefs expect the jab to be ‘8 per cent effective’ in people over 65 years of age, according to reports in newspapers Bild and Handelsblatt.
German officials fear that the AstraZeneca vaccine may now not be approved by the EU drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), it is claimed.
But the reports have sparked a furious denial by Oxford vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca. The British-Swedish say the reports are ‘absolutely incorrect’.
In a statement, they said: ‘Reports that the Astra/Zeneca Oxford vaccine efficacy is as low as 8 per cent in adults over 65 are absolutely incorrect’.
The Germans, though, are standing by their story:
We have confirmed the 8% with multiple sources familiar with the German vaccination policy. Our sources, including members of the government coalition, spoke on the condition of anonymity so we cannot source the story “on the record” nor can we make public any underlying data
— Gregor Waschinski (@washingtonski) January 25, 2021
There are a number of things to bear in mind here: First, EU countries are under huge and increasing pressure as a result of the slow, snails pace rollout of their vaccination programmes. At the same time, Britain, which is outside the EU, these days, is racing ahead. And it is racing ahead using….. the Astrazenica vaccine.
If it were to turn out that the Astrazenica vaccine didn’t work, well, Germany and other EU countries would look smart for holding back, and Britain would just have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on a vaccination campaign that was largely pointless. Politicians are usually slow to raise doubts about the efficacy of vaccines – but in this case, raising the doubts might make them look better, which is, as a general rule, more important than behaving responsibly.
Second, the data is fiercely denied by Astrazenica itself. Should we take that denial at face value? Normally, the answer would be yes. But given the huge importance of the vaccination campaign, they will certainly now be under pressure to produce data showing that the German allegation is incorrect.
And there is one thing worth noting in all this. Read this, from the report into the Astrazenica trial, published back in December:
Overall, it remains unclear how much the over-55 age group will benefit from even the standard dose of the vaccine: only 12% of those in the group evaluated for vaccine efficacy were over 55. Earlier studies2 of the vaccine showed that immune responses in people over 55 were comparable to those in younger study participants, suggesting that the vaccine will work well in older adults. But the larger clinical trial has few data from older adults so far, because they were recruited to the study later, says Pollard.
In other words, very little testing has been done by the company itself on people over 65. Before the vaccine was released into the wild, it’s hard to imagine, based on those numbers, that they could have been 100% certain that the vaccine was working properly in the elderly.
That means that they’ll have to produce data from the UK showing that it’s working.
What are the implications for Ireland?
Well, if the German allegation is wrong, then there are no implications. But if it’s not wrong? Oooof:
Briefly spoke to a govt source about the AstraZeneca reports out of Germany. Didn't know if true but pointed out that community delivery heavily dependent on AZ as the one which can be stored most easily. Would be massive ramifications
— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) January 25, 2021
If the Astrazenica vaccine isn’t working, then the Irish Government is in big trouble. As are we all, frankly.
More on this, as and when we get it.
UPDATE: And there is, in fact, more. This is brutal:
NEW: The German Health Ministry has DENIED the Handelsblatt report claiming the AstraZeneca vaccine had only 8% efficacy for over-65s
They say there has been confusion and 8% actually refers to the number of people in the study between 56 and 69 years old
Oh my word…
— Alex Wickham (@alexwickham) January 26, 2021
Translation: There’s nothing wrong with the vaccine. The Germans just confused the number of people it was tested on (8% of the total were in the elderly age group) with how effective it is on the elderly.
That’s mortifying. They’ll be very lucky if AstraZenica doesn’t sue them.