Britain defends Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine rollout among all ages amid European skepticism


Britain’s health minister on Wednesday defended the country’s vaccine rollout strategy after skepticism emerged in Europe, saying the science supported a decision to give the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca to all age groups.

France, Belgium and Germany are among the European Union countries to recommend that Oxford’s vaccine is only given to under 65s, while French President Emmanuel Macron was quoted on Friday as saying that the shot appeared “quasi-ineffective” among those over 65.

That is strongly disputed by the vaccine’s developers and the British government, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended Britain’s approach when asked about Macron’s comment.

“My view is that we should listen to the scientists … and the science on this one was already pretty clear, and then with this publication overnight is absolutely crystal clear that the Oxford vaccine not only works but works well,” Hancock told BBC Radio, referring to new data from Oxford.

That pre-print study showed that the Oxford vaccine had 76 per cent efficacy after a first shot in the three months until a second shot was given, and higher efficacy if the second dose was given at least 12 weeks after the first, supporting Britain’s decision to extend the gap between doses.

Britain ahead of France, other EU countries in vaccine rollout

However, the study did not give extra direct evidence of efficacy in older people.

Asked about Macron’s comment, Oxford Vaccine Group chief Andrew Pollard said: “I don’t understand what that statement means.”

“The point is that we have rather less data in older adults, which is why people have less certainty about the level of protection,” Pollard told BBC Radio.

“But we have good immune responses in older adults very similar to younger adults. The protection that we do see is in exactly the same direction, and of a similar magnitude.”

Care home resident Jean Allen, 91, is seen through a viewing screen installed for residents to safely receive visits from family members, as she receives her first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in January. (Matt Dunham/The Associated Press)

Britain is well ahead of France and other EU countries in the pace of its rollout, having approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot earlier and made the change to dosing guidelines to give some protection to more people in a quicker time frame.

French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune defended the comparatively slower pace of vaccines rollout, saying Britain had taken “enormous risks,” for instance, in using the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot on older people.

“You see, the United Kingdom has taken fewer precautions than ourselves,” Beaune told LCI TV on Wednesday.

Health Canada has not yet approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in Canada.

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