Belgian advise against giving AstraZeneca vaccine to over-55s

Regulators in Belgium are the the latest in Europe to advise against the administration of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to older people due a lack of data about its efficacy.

Frank Vandenbroucke, Belgium’s health minister, said the country’s superior health council, an advisory body, had suggested the jab should be administered to people younger than 55 for the time being.

Vandenbroucke said Belgium was reviewing its vaccination strategy. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had been a key part of the government’s plan to prioritise vulnerable groups in the early months of this year.

Vandenbroucke said: “The superior health council says very clearly that the AstraZeneca vaccine is a very good vaccine for people between 18 and 55 years old.

“But it is also said we don’t have enough data today to say with certainty that it works so well in older people. If you are not sure, then the advice is to start using the vaccine in people under 55.

“It is a preliminary advice. Maybe we will have the necessary data in a few weeks. For the time being we are taking it safe. Of course, the vaccines from AstraZeneca will arrive next week. We will have to make decisions.”

The European Medicines Agency authorised use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to all age groups over 18 last week but the lack of data in older groups had led to some caution among national advisory bodies in Europe.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca study had included only a small number of people in the older age range in its phase 3 clinical trials out of caution, given the speed with which the vaccine had been produced.

Only 6% of participants in the trials were over 65, with 341 people receiving a shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine and 319 given a placebo.

The Belgian decision echoes that of authorities in France, Germany, Poland and Italy, where regulators authorised its use in younger groups but either ruled out or cautioned against its use among people aged 65 and over.

On Monday, France’s Haute Autorité de Santé had recommended that the vaccine be administered among those under the age of 65.

The standing committee on vaccination of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control agency, went further last week, saying the jab should not be given to people aged over 65.

On Wednesday, the Oxford Vaccine group director, Andrew Pollard said older people in the UK should be reassured that the vaccine was both safe and that there was data showing a “strong immune response” in older people.

He said: “I think the first really important point is that the European Medicines Agency has approved the vaccine for use in all ages in all countries in Europe. Our regulator, the MHRA, has approved for all ages and another 25 or so regulators elsewhere in the world have also approved the vaccine for all ages.

“But individual countries have their own [joint committee on vaccination and immunisation equivalent] committees, and they have to look at what vaccines they have available, what they make of the data and what’s best for their population. And so that’s obviously up to them.”

Asked about comments made by France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, who had described the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab as “quasi-ineffective” in an interview with the Guardian, Pollard expressed bemusement.

He said: “I don’t understand what the 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. 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 other similar magnitudes.”

“I think we’re confident that we’re going to see good protection in all age groups, just as global regulators have taken that view.”


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