Astrazeneca vaccine will in future also be recommended for people aged 65 and over

So far, Germany has lagged behind other countries when it comes to vaccination rates. With a change in the use of the Astrazeneca vaccine, things could now accelerate

It seemed like a flaw to some, even if experts repeatedly contradicted: The Astrazeneca corona vaccine was initially not recommended for people aged 65 and over in Germany, i.e. for the particularly at-risk groups. Now the Standing Vaccination Commission (Stiko) has updated its assessment at the time with a view to new findings from studies. She is paving the way for Astrazenca vaccinations for people aged 65 and over.

The committee at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) announced in advance on Thursday that it would recommend vaccination with the vaccine for all age groups, in accordance with the approval, despite an opinion procedure that is still required. That was decided on Wednesday. This does not change anything in the situation that there are currently no approved corona vaccines for children and adolescents.

Reasons for the step

The original recommendation that the vaccine only be given to people between the ages of 18 and 64 had to do with a lack of study data on its effects in the elderly. Stiko chairman Thomas Mertens recently announced a review - and stressed that he had never criticized the vaccine itself. It was always about the initially thin data.

Stiko stated that it had now analyzed and assessed new data. The effectiveness was impressively demonstrated: in preventing diseases and especially in preventing severe courses. The findings come from England and Scotland, where the preparation is widely used.

The updated vaccination recommendation was initially not available on Thursday. The committee justified the preliminary declaration with the extraordinary situation and the great need for information of the population. The Federal Ministry of Health had previously announced the move.

Others were waiting for dates too

Germany was not the only EU country that initially had an age limit for deployment. The French government, for example, only extended its use on Monday to people between the ages of 65 and 75 who have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Austria's capital Vienna announced on Wednesday that from now on people aged 65 and over will also be vaccinated with the vaccine. And the Swedish health authority announced like the Stiko on Thursday that the application will now be extended to everyone over 18 and will no longer be limited to people under 65.

Security for the elderly

In principle, experts rate all approved active ingredients as safe. Vaccinated people can experience flu-like symptoms for one to two days, which, according to the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), usually reflects "the body's normal immune response to the vaccination". Such reactions are more common with the Astrazeneca preparation after the first of the two vaccinations. With the mRNA preparations from Biontech / Pfizer and Moderna, this is more likely to be the case after the second dose.

According to the PEI, roughly half of the people develop fatigue, headaches, pain at the injection site and muscle pain. In more than 30 percent, there is chills and fever, and joint pain and nausea are less common. In general, such side effects are therefore lower in older people than in younger people.

protection

With reference to previous studies, the German Society for Immunology emphasizes that the vaccine - like the other two preparations - almost completely prevents severe Covid 19 diseases. The vaccination protects against symptomatic Covid-19 disease with an effectiveness of about 80 percent. With the other two vaccines, this effectiveness is slightly higher at over 90 percent. According to experts, so far there have been no studies in which the three vaccines have been directly compared with one another.

The vaccine

The vaccine, called AZD1222, was developed by the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company Astrazeneca together with the University of Oxford. In contrast to the vaccines from Biontech / Pfizer and Moderna, it can be stored at normal refrigerator temperature. It is also cheaper.

Unlike the other two vaccines, the Astrazeneca preparation is not an mRNA vaccine. It is based on the weakened version of a cold virus from chimpanzees and contains genetic material of a surface protein with which the pathogen Sars-CoV-2 docks on human cells. With the help of these building instructions, the cells make this protein and the body develops an immune response.

The debate

Several experts from science and medicine recently complained that Astrazeneca has an image problem in Germany - the drug is effective, safe and protects against serious disease.

The media had previously reported, among other things, about missed vaccination appointments, and side effects were also in focus. However, experts emphasized that the bumpy start was also related to planning and logistical issues.

Reactions

Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) spoke of good news for all older people who are waiting for a vaccination. "You can be vaccinated faster." The new study data also showed that the vaccine is even more effective if the interval between the first and second vaccination is twelve weeks. The Stiko also expressly recommend this. The recommendations would now be implemented "very promptly" in the vaccination regulation. The vaccine expert at the Berlin Charité, Leif Sander, tweeted: "That's good! Then we can really start now."