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Oxford Study Says AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Has "Substantial Effect" On Transmission As France Rejects It For Over-65s

The French health authorities have suggested the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be given to the over-65s (PA)

4 min read

An Oxford university study said the AstraZeneca vaccine may have a "substantial effect" on transmission of coronavirus, and the three-month gap between doses does not lower protection from the disease.

The results, published in a pre-print report with The Lancet medical journal, showed a 67% reduction in positive swabs among those vaccinated, and an effectiveness of 76% from day 22 to day 90 after the jab, with no drop off.

Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial and co-author of the paper, said: "These new data provide an important verification of the interim data that was used by more than 25 regulators including the MHRA and EMA to grant the vaccine emergency use authorisation.

"It also supports the policy recommendation made by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) for a 12-week prime-boost interval, as they look for the optimal approach to roll out, and reassures us that people are protected from 22 days after a single dose of the vaccine."

But the news comes as France has become the latest country to say the AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 should not be given to the over-65s despite approval by the European medicines regulator.

Today’s comments were not the first time the French have criticised the UK rollout, with president Emmanuel Macron saying last Friday there was "very little information" available about the AstraZeneca vaccine, adding “we think that it is quasi-ineffective for people over 65”.

In a briefing with reporters he said: "What I can tell you officially today is that the early results we have are not encouraging for 60 to 65-year-old people concerning AstraZeneca.”

The Haute Autorite de la Sante, an independent body whose recommendations are rigidly followed by ministers, said more data was needed before it could recommend its use on the elderly.

It said priority access should be given to people between 50 and 65 with health issues and frontline medical staff.

The jab has been used to vaccinate millions of the most elderly and most vulnerable people in the UK in the past few weeks, with the pharmaceutical giant dismissing concerns about its effectiveness.

It comes after the Polish government said earlier today it would only give the version, developed in partnership with Oxford university, to those aged 18-60.

That followed German and Austrian medical experts, who last week also cited a lack of data in recommending the vaccine should not be used on people aged 65 or above.

But the European Medicines Agency authorised the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for use in all adult age groups last Friday.

However there has been an ongoing war of words between the EU, leaders of member states and the British-Swedish company over delivery of millions of doses for the continent.

This morning European commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the UK had enjoyed a head start in immunising its population through compromising on “safety and efficacy” safeguards.

“Some countries started to vaccinate a little before Europe, it is true,” she said. “But they resorted to emergency, 24-hour marketing authorisation procedures.

“The commission and the member states agreed not to compromise with the safety and efficacy requirements linked to the authorisation of a vaccine. Time had to be taken to analyse the data, which, even minimised, takes three to four weeks.

“So, yes, Europe left it later, but it was the right decision. I remind you that a vaccine is the injection of an active biological substance into a healthy body.

"We are talking about mass vaccination here, it is a gigantic responsibility.”

France’s Europe minister, Clément Beaune, also said: “The British are in an extremely difficult health situation. They are taking many risks in this vaccination campaign. 

“And I can understand it, but they are taking many risks.”

One of the risks he suggested had been taken was the decision to extend the gap between administering the first initial jab and the second booster jab to 12 weeks.

Earlier in the week German media reported the jab was only 8% effective among the over-65s, quoting government sources.

Ministers later claimed the figure had been quoted mistakenly, but AstraZeneca slammed the reports as “completely incorrect”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected concerns from the continent, saying; “I think that the MHRA, our own authorities, have made it very clear that they think the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is very good and efficacious, gives a high degree of protection after just one dose, and even more after two doses, and the evidence that they've supplied is that they think that it is effective across all age groups. 

“It provides them a good immune response across all age groups, so I don't agree with that.”

Public Health England also hit back, with its head of immunisations Dr Mary Ramsay saying: “Both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines are safe and provide high levels of protection against COVID-19, particularly against severe disease. 

“There were too few cases in older people in the AstraZeneca trials to observe precise levels of protection in this group, but data on immune responses were very reassuring.”

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