British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca is fighting battles on several fronts this week — defending its coronavirus vaccine from reports that it could be less effective in protecting the elderly and facing increasing tensions with the EU over its delayed supplies to the bloc, CNBC reported.
On Monday, the drugmaker defended its vaccine from reports in several German newspapers, Bild and Handelsblatt, that the AstraZeneca vaccine, created in conjunction with the University of Oxford, had a low efficacy rate (of less than 10% and 8%, the papers said, respectively) in the over-65s, the main target group for having the vaccine as they are more at risk of serious disease and death.
Both cited unnamed officials in Germany’s government as saying that the vaccine had a poor efficacy rate among people aged over 65 and said this could affect whether the vaccine is authorized for use among the elderly.
AstraZeneca responded Monday evening, saying in a statement: “Reports that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine efficacy is as low as 8% in adults over 65 years are completely incorrect.”
“In November, we published data in The Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100% of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose,” it added.
It said the U.K.’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, which advises the government on its vaccination strategy, had supported the vaccine’s use in the elderly. It also said that strong immune responses to the vaccine had been shown in blood analysis of elderly trial participants.
Elderly trial participants were admitted later to phase three clinical trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which took place in the U.K. and Brazil, and earlier on in South Africa, and so there is less available data on the efficacy of the shot in the over-65s. Initial trials in the U.K. focused on the under-55s to examine whether the vaccine was effective for the majority of healthcare workers.
When AstraZeneca published its trial findings in the medical journal The Lancet in December, it said, “as older age groups were recruited later than younger age groups, there has been less time for cases to accrue and as a result, efficacy data in these cohorts are currently limited by the small number of cases, but additional data will be available in future analyses.” CNBC has contacted AstraZeneca for comment following the reports.
On Tuesday morning, the German health ministry said there is no data that would suggest an efficacy of only 8% among older people for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Reuters reported.