Germany’s vaccination authority has approved the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on the over-65s, the Health Ministry said on Thursday, in a step that should help accelerate the country’s faltering vaccination drive.
It added that the Permanent Vaccination Authority had recommended extending to a maximum 12 weeks the period between receiving the first and second doses of the AstraZeneca shot on the back of studies showing a longer gap improved its efficacy.
“This is good news for older people who are waiting for a vaccine. They can now be vaccinated more quickly,” the ministry said. “We will shortly issue a regulation implementing both recommendations.”
Germany declined initially to authorize AstraZeneca’s vaccine for those aged above 65, saying there was a lack of evidence from clinical trials confirming its effectiveness on that age cohort.
But growing data showing the AstraZeneca shot’s efficacy among the elderly in Britain has led to a change of heart in Berlin, while France has also eased a ban on administering the shot to people over the age of 65.
The German decision was in line with recommendations by the European Union’s health regulator that the second shot of AstraZeneca’s vaccine be administered between four and 12 weeks after the first.
There was no mention in the health ministry statement of the other main vaccine being administered in Germany, from a partnership between Pfizer and BioNTech .
Health Minister Jens Spahn has called for the gap between administering the two shots to be extended to six weeks to stretch supply.
Current guidance from the European Union’s health regulator is for the Pfizer shot to be administered at three-week intervals in line with the company’s own guidance.
Politicians have faced growing criticism for the slow pace of vaccination in Germany, which is lagging well behind pack leaders Britain, Israel and the United States. (Reporting by Thomas Escritt Editing by Riham Alkousaa and Douglas Busvine)