Germany challenges AstraZeneca Covid vaccine efficacy reports

Report said ministers expected EU regulator’s assessment to show jab was only 8% effective among over-65s

The German government has challenged reports of a lower-than-expected efficacy rate of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for older people, while reiterating concerns about the British-Swedish pharmaceutical giant’s data reporting.

An article in German business daily Handelsblatt had reported that the German government was expecting the European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) assessment to show the AstraZeneca vaccine to be only 8% effective among the over-65s, describing it a “setback for Berlin’s vaccination strategy”.

AstraZeneca instantly dismissed the reports on Monday night, saying the 8% figure was “completely incorrect”.

The German health minister, Jens Spahn, on Tuesday morning described the report as “speculation” and declined to comment while EMA’s analysis of AstraZeneca’s trial data was ongoing.

A later statement by the German health ministry suggested the report had mixed up the efficacy rate for over-65s with the number of seniors involved in AstraZeneca’s trials.

Germany cases

“At first sight it appears that two things have been muddled in the reports,” said the statement. “Around 8% of participants in the AstraZeneca efficacy trials were aged between 56 and 69 years old, only 3 to 4% were over 70. This does not result in an efficacy of only 8% among seniors.”

But the German government also voiced concerns about AstraZeneca’s data reporting: “It has been known since the autumn that fewer seniors were included in the trials supplied by AstraZeneca than the trials of other manufacturers.”

In a statement, Handelsblatt said it stood by its report that there were ongoing concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine’s low efficacy within the German government, although the newspaper did not repeat the specific 8% figure previously cited.

“According to information by Handelsblatt, the government’s doubts about the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine among elder risk groups have not been dispelled. A high-ranking official within the health ministry told Handelsblatt: “A mix-up of the numbers is impossible. On the basis of the data made available to us so far, the efficacy among the over-60s lies below 10%.’”

Scientists have previously raised questions about the representative value of AstraZeneca’s trial design.

An article published by Austrian daily Der Standard last week cited an anonymous high-ranking expert involved in the EU’s vaccine roll-out who said AstraZeneca had “shortcomings regarding the ‘provable efficacy’ for people over 65”.

In an interview with broadcaster ZDF, Spahn suggested that the German government could make younger people with pre-existing health conditions its priority for the AstraZeneca vaccine, rather than the elderly.

“On the basis of scientific findings we will decide next week which age groups will be vaccinated with the vaccine first,” said Spahn. “One thing is clear, we have people with pre-existing illnesses in all age groups, people who desperately hope for a vaccine […]. We can certainly make good use of the vaccine.”

The report in Handelsblatt was published on the same day that the European commission accused AstraZeneca of failing to give a satisfactory explanation for a huge shortfall of promised doses to member states, leading to speculation that the article was part of a retaliation strategy against the British-Swedish manufacturer.

However, the Guardian understands that the original tipoff for the story in Handelsblatt came from a source within one of Germany’s medical regulatory bodies rather than government circles.


Philip Oltermann in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Why experts say there is no basis to claims in Germany about efficacy of AstraZeneca vaccine
Analysis: Drug company and scientific partners at Oxford University have strongly pushed back against German press report

Nicola Davis and Philip Oltermann

26, Jan, 2021 @4:59 PM

Article image
Covid: Germany and France under pressure to shift Oxford vaccine
Both countries urged to take action to avoid pile-up of unused AstraZeneca vaccine doses

Philip Oltermann in Berlin Jon Henley in Paris

02, Mar, 2021 @1:57 PM

Article image
Scepticism over Oxford vaccine threatens Europe's immunisation push
German politicians voice support for jab after only 17% of doses delivered to country are administered so far

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

19, Feb, 2021 @1:53 PM

Article image
Ireland suspends AstraZeneca Covid vaccine over blood clot concerns
Suspension follows similar move in Ireland due to reports in Norway of blood clots despite no proof of a link

Sarah Boseley Health editor

14, Mar, 2021 @11:38 PM

Article image
UK doing more than most to help poor get Covid vaccine, study finds
Campaign scoring countries for global access efforts calls for more British transparency

Sarah Boseley Health editor

30, Sep, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
France and Germany threaten AstraZeneca over vaccine shortage
Warning of ‘legal commitment’ and concern that doses might have been diverted from the EU to the UK

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

31, Jan, 2021 @12:20 PM

Article image
Germany to administer Covid drugs used to treat Donald Trump
Country will be first in EU to use antibody cocktails after government buys 200,000 doses

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

25, Jan, 2021 @1:18 PM

Article image
AstraZeneca sales of Covid vaccine triple to $1.2bn in first half of 2021
Not-for-profit pledge sees British firm’s sales revenue fall significantly short of US rival Pfizer

Julia Kollewe

29, Jul, 2021 @2:58 PM

Article image
Germany set to give AstraZeneca jab to older people
Regulator concedes process had ‘somehow gone wrong’ and is could soon approve vaccine

Philip Oltermann and Robin McKie

27, Feb, 2021 @9:45 PM

Article image
The Guardian view on coronavirus and vaccine scepticism: time to act | Editorial
Editorial: Plans for mass immunisation against Covid-19 are developing fast, but concerns must be addressed


22, Nov, 2020 @6:30 PM