Frankfurt: Germany will change its recommendation on AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine and say it should only be used for women and men older than 60, after new data emerged on potential side effects.
The country’s vaccination commission has drafted a recommendation that the shots only be used for older people but leaves open the possibility to administer it to younger people at a doctor’s discretion, according to a person familiar with the document.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has scheduled a press conference on Tuesday evening to comment on the further use of AstraZeneca, while the commission itself is only expected to make a final decision on Thursday.
The move marks an astonishing about-face after Germany and other European countries first endorsed the use of the shots only for younger people, amid an initial lack of data for those above the age of 60. They later recommended the use for everyone. But earlier this month a number of countries including Germany temporarily suspended the jab before resuming it after the European Union’s drug regulator said it was safe.
The development is a fresh blow for Astra’s vaccine, and another threat to Europe’s inoculation campaign, which has already experienced delays, controversy and political battles.
Germany’s move follows a report from the country’s vaccine agency of a rare brain blood clot in 31 people, nine of whom died. With the exception of two people, all of the cases were women between the ages of 20 and 63. The capital Berlin earlier on Tuesday suspended using Astra’s dose for people under the age of 60.
The news is a fresh headache for Merkel, who’s already battling regional leaders over measures to contain the recent surge in coronavirus infections. She’s been criticized by Armin Laschet, the leader of her party, over a threat to assert federal authority over Covid measures.
Dilek Kalayci, Berlin’s top health official, said Tuesday that the regional suspension was a “precaution.”
“This vaccine does prevent severe symptoms, and that is very valuable, but we have to be careful with it nonetheless,” she said.
The vaccination commission’s draft has been sent to regional states and others so that they can comment on it, the person said, who asked not to be identified as the information is private.
The European Medicines Agency has alerted doctors to the latest blood-clot data, and amended the vaccine’s information notice. It said it can’t entirely rule out a link between vaccination and blood clots, including unusual cases in which patients have low levels of blood-clotting platelets.
Earlier this month, the EMA reviewed the blood-clot issue and concluded that the benefits of the Astra shot outweigh the risks. While it said the cases so far are “rare,” it recommended that a warning is added to make sure the public is better informed.
Germany’s latest move comes after health officials in Canada suspended plans to give the Astra vaccine to younger people over the blood-clotting concerns. Several provinces halted shots this week after the nation’s vaccine advisory committee recommended a pause on administering it to people under 55 years old.
Norway has extended a pause on injections, while France and other countries have imposed age restrictions. –Bloomberg