European minister critical of AstraZeneca use for those over 65
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Amid criticisms from some European countries on jurisdictions that use Oxford’s AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine on individuals over 65, Director of the National HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Programme Dr Nikkiah Forbes said The Bahamas’ decision to provide the vaccine to the elderly is the “correct, scientific decision”.
The Bahamas is expected to receive 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca in two tranches, beginning this month.
“It absolutely should be used in persons over the age of 65,” she told Eyewitness News.
“There is no evidence that it is not as efficacious, and I think that we will find out more about that.
“Further, the WHO (World Health Organization) took a scientific position also recommending that this vaccine is used in people above the age of 65.
“It is the correct, scientific decision.”
The government has said it will continue to follow WHO guidelines.
France’s Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune has suggested that countries such as the United Kingdom, which provide the AstraZeneca vaccine to those over 65, are taking a “more risky” approach as there is still not enough data on the vaccine.
Asked if he was suggesting the UK was taking a shortcut and not following the science while on BBC’s HARDtalk with Stephen Sackur, the minister said: “This is not what I am saying. I am saying the fact, though, as the approach followed in the UK — I am not saying it is not science-based — I am saying it is more risky.
“It’s the facts because you have followed scientific recommendations, WHO recommendations in particular, [but] this is not what our scientists are saying to us.”
He continued: “We don’t have enough data regarding people over 65.”
The European Medicines Agency authorized the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the European Union (EU) and unanimously recommended the vaccine be used in people 18 and over last month.
The EU approved the vaccine for use in its 27 nations.
Trials show around 60 percent efficacy.
While lower than other vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna, health experts have said any vaccine with over a 50 percent rate of efficacy can help to prevent outbreaks.
In the UK and a number of other countries, including India, Mexico and Argentina, AstraZeneca has been approved for use among all age groups.
However, France’s Health Authority made an official recommendation earlier this month for the vaccine to be used for people under 65.
France was not alone.
Other countries in the EU took a similar position, including Austria, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and Poland.
Italy and Belgium have gone a step further and limited the vaccine for those under 55.
UK experts have sought to dispel assertions that there is not enough data to demonstrate efficacy in people aged 65 or over.
But Forbes said there appears to be some confusion surrounding the AstraZeneca studies.
“If you read the actual study that was published in the lab set with the results of these trials, what you should understand is that people who were over the age of 65 were enrolled in the clinical trials and that they also did mount an immune response that was comparable to other ages,” she said.
“That was in the range that was comparable to the other ages that were studied.
“It translates into scientific expectation [that those] who are over the age of 65 should also be able to mount an effective immune response when they get that vaccine that will help so that when they encounter the SARS CoV2 virus naturally, it should help to reduce significantly their chance of getting severe disease, hospitalization and death.”
Forbes pointed out that elderly people in The Bahamas are more likely to get severely sick and die from the virus.
“When you look at what would be the benefit and in which groups, it certainly would be older people who would benefit most from getting this vaccine as it relates to reducing their chances of dying and the mortality rate.”
To date, 179 people have died from the virus in The Bahamas.
Another 38 people infected with COVID died from other illnesses.
Forbes’ sentiment has been echoed by international regulators.
For example, Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) Chief Executive Dr June Raine said: “The data we have show that the vaccine produces a strong immune response in the over-65s, and that it is safe.”
The central issue for European regulators is that an insufficient number of participants in vaccine trials were in that age group.
Vaccine trials continue, even for approved vaccines.
The AstraZeneca developers have said results from a trial of 2,000 adults aged over 55 in the UK will soon be available, and another in the US in older age groups will soon be completed as well.
The National COVID-19 Vaccine Consultative Committee said earlier this month that the vaccine distribution plan was being finalized, and it will be administered at approved sites in communities across The Bahamas to ensure “increased access and equitable distribution”.
A press conference will be held today to provide an update on the vaccine.