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AZ Refutes Reports Suggesting Its COVID-19 Vaccine Is Less Effective in the Elderly

AstraZeneca (AZ) has hit back at German media reports suggesting that its Oxford University-partnered COVID-19 vaccine is less effective in people over the age of 65.

The German newspapers Handelsblatt and Bild separately reported that the AZ/Oxford vaccine had an efficacy of only 8% or less than 10% in individuals aged 65 years and over.

In response, AZ said that the reports were “completely incorrect”, further highlighting data published in The Lancet last November.

This included data from a phase 2 study of the vaccine that involved 560 healthy adult volunteers, 160 of which were aged 56-69 and 240 were aged 70 years and older.

The findings showed that the vaccine was safe and well tolerated in older and younger adults, with a similar immune response reported across the age groups following a boost vaccination.

The vaccine was observed to induce a specific antibody response to the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein at 28 days after a single dose across all age groups.

Similar patterns were observed with regards to neutralising antibody response, with no notable difference at day 28 after the first vaccine dose regardless of age or vaccine dose. In participants who received a second dose of the vaccine, a booster effect was observed, however.

“Here we found similar safety and immunogenicity of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 in older adults compared with younger adults, which could support the use of this vaccine in this older age group, if it is shown to be protective in phase 3 trials,” commented the researchers.

Regarding the German media reports, an Oxford University spokesperson commented: “The results of the clinical trials have already been published transparently in five peer-reviewed scientific publications showing similar immune responses in younger and older adults and a good safety profile and high efficacy in younger adults.”

“Furthermore, the preliminary efficacy data in older adults supports the importance of this vaccine for use in this population,” they added.

The German health ministry also said that it cannot confirm the media reports, adding in a statement that the newspapers “mixed up” information regarding AZ studies of the vaccine.

“At first glance it seems that the [media] reports have mixed up two things: about 8% of those tested in the AstraZeneca efficacy study were between 56 and 69 [years old], only 3-4% over 70 (MHRA Approval Public Assessment Report),” the health ministry said in a statement.

“But one cannot deduce an efficacy of only 8% with older people from that.

“Moreover, the EMA [European Medicines Agency] is currently evaluating the studies. It has been known since the autumn that in the first studies that AstraZeneca submitted, fewer older people took part than in the studies of other producers,” the health ministry added.

The EMA's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) will meet on 29 January to review all data submitted by AZ regarding the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine.