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AstraZeneca insists on vaccine efficacy as EU delivery row heats up

Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca lashed out on Tuesday against media reports questioning whether its coronavirus vaccine was maximally effective when used on the elderly, with the firm still under fire over expected EU delivery delays.

Brussels, 26 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca lashed out on Tuesday against media reports questioning whether its coronavirus vaccine was maximally effective when used on the elderly, with the firm still under fire over expected EU delivery delays.

The claims were “completely incorrect,” it said, highlighting approval from Britain’s medicine regulator, the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, and support from its vaccine body, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

“In November, we published data in [medical journal] The Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100 [per cent] of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose,” it added.

One of the reports that raised questions came in German business daily newspaper Handelsblatt. It cited sources within the German federal government stating the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine among people older than 65 stands at 8 per cent.

The German tabloid Bild made a similar allegation in its report.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn declined to comment on the claims, telling broadcaster ZDF that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and his country’s own Robert Koch Institute were currently scrutinizing the data.

The EMA is expected to grant approval of the shot for use in the European Union on Friday.

The German Health Ministry said it looked as though the Handelsblatt report may have gotten some figures mixed up.

It said that, as part of AstraZeneca’s efficacy trial, 8 per cent of participants had been aged between 56 and 69, while only between 3 and 4 per cent had been aged 70 and older. An efficacy rate of 8 per cent for those aged 65 and up could not be derived from those figures, it added.

The fight about the vaccine’s usefulness added to AstraZeneca’s problems, because it was already in hot water after announcing that shipments of vaccines to EU countries would much be slower than expected.

“Europe invested billions to help develop the world’s first Covid vaccines,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the World Economic Forum on Tuesday.

“Now the companies must deliver and honour their obligations,” she said.

According to the EU executive branch, the bloc had expected 80 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed at the University of Oxford, by the end of March, but is now only anticipating 31 million.

Its contract with the firm – signed back in August – is for up to 400 million shots. The commission also handed 336 million euros (409 million dollars) to the company to speed up production ahead of time.

Fellow vaccine producer Pfizer-BioNTech – a joint US-German venture – also announced slower than expected deliveries to the EU last week, but pledged to fill 100 per cent of agreed orders by the end of this week.

The 27-country bloc’s mass inoculation campaign has gotten off to a relatively slow start.

The commission target to have 70 per cent of the 450-million-strong population vaccinated by summer is looking less and less feasible.

AstraZeneca’s explanations – centering on issues at a production site – did not satisfy the commission at two emergency meetings between EU officials, member states and company representatives on Monday.

Another meeting is set for Wednesday.

The commission is setting up a register for all EU-produced vaccines being exported elsewhere, amid speculation that sales to third countries are exacerbating shortages.

“This is not about blocking, this is about knowing,” von der Leyen’s spokesperson Eric Mamer told reporters in Brussels of the new mechanism amid criticism it represented a form of “vaccine nationalism.”

With six contracts inked providing up to 2 billion doses, the bloc has ordered more vaccines than it needs and has pledged to pass on surplus doses to third countries.

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