'lack of data' AstraZeneca vaccine blow as effectiveness on older people now in question
A question mark hangs over whether the "gamechanger" Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine will be rolled out to all over-70s amid a lack of evidence on how well it will protect older people.
The vaccine was approved for everyone over-18 by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) but its scientists said while there will be some level of protection for the over-55s they could not say how much because not enough were involved in its trials.
Germany has already decided the vaccine should only be given to people aged under 65, saying there is a lack of sufficient data to recommend use in older age groups.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said last night: "The next step now is that the National Immunisation Advisory Committee will advise us on the use of the vaccine."
The experts will meet this weekend to analyse the date from the EMA and also decide of older age groups should be given the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.
The original plan was to roll out the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines to over-70s beginning with the over-85s through their GPs.
The minister said: "We now have access to three approved vaccines and will get 1.1 million doses in quarter one. We know we can begin the vaccination of those aged 70 and over."
A public information campaign for this group begins this weekend and they are advised they will be contacted by their GP.
However, vaccine task force chairman Brian MacCraith confirmed yesterday the expected 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is likely to be reduced to 300,000.
The European Commission is in a bitter row with AstraZeneca as the company is only supplying 31 million doses in the first quarter, 60pc less than agreed.
Earlier, the published contract between the Commission and the company indicated it covered UK plants which should deliver doses to the EU.
Last night the EU confirmed that under new rules, vaccine firms will have to seek permission before supplying doses beyond the EU
The EU member states will be able to vet those export applications.
The EMA said the two-dose Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is 60pc effective in preventing people who catch the virus getting ill.
Irish-born Emma Cooke, head of the EMA said: "While there are not yet enough results in older participants - over 55 years old - to provide a figure for how well the vaccine will work in this group protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines."
Dr Denis McCauley, GP spokesman for the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), said doctors here will await the decision of the advisory committee on what is the best way forward.
He said his advice to patients is to take "whichever vaccine they are given".
Pfizer held out the hope of increasing vaccine deliveries here after it announced modifications to its plant in Belgium will ease the scale-up of manufacturing capacities in Europe and deliver significantly more doses in the second quarter.
"Following this important upscaling work, Pfizer and BioNtech are now fulfilling deliveries to the European Union in line with the original agreed schedule, and continue to work toward increased deliveries beginning week of February 15, ensuring we will supply the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter," the company said.
It comes as the number of new cases of the virus diagnosed here this month reached 100,000.
Another 48 Covid-19 related deaths were reported with those who died ranging in age from 30 to 99.
The number of daily cases fell to 1,254 confirming a downward trend.
There was also a drop in patients with Covid-19 in hospital to 1,518 and slight fall in intensive care to 211.
Among yesterday's cases 437 were in Dublin, 146 in Cork, 76 in Meath, 69 in Wexford, 62 in Kildare while the remaining 464 cases were spread across all other counties.
There is further hope on the horizon after it emerged a single-dose vaccine, manufactured by the US company Johnson and Johnson, is 100pc effective at preventing deaths and hospitalisations from Covid-19.
This means that one month after vaccination, no one who received the shot was admitted to hospital or died, regardless of which strain of coronavirus they were exposed to.
In the 44,000-person trial by the company's subsidiary Janssen, based in the Netherlands, they also found the vaccine prevented 66pc of moderate to severe cases of Covid-19.
Ireland has ordered 2.2 million doses of this vaccine. It has not yet applied for approval.
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