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 inoculation drive.
It added that the Permanent Vaccination Commission 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,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a statement. “We will shortly issue a regulation implementing both recommendations.”
People who have recovered from COVID-19 should receive a single dose of the AstraZeneca shot six months after their diagnosis, the Vaccination Commission said in a statement issued via the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.
The ruling follows a similar moves in Spain, France, Italy and Sweden and accounts for the immunity engendered in patients who have recovered from the flu-like disease.
Germany declined initially to authorise AstraZeneca’s vaccine for those aged above 65, saying there was a lack of evidence from clinical trials confirming its effectiveness.
That decision contributed to public scepticism over whether the AstraZeneca shot was as effective as alternatives. News reports of strong side-effects among front-line workers also slowed takeup, causing doses to go unused.
AstraZeneca has delivered 2.1 million doses of its vaccine to Germany but only 630,000 have been used so far, according to the latest figures from the Health Ministry and the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases.
In total, just 5.5% of people have received a first vaccine dose in Germany – behind countries like Israel, Britain and the United States that have made faster progress.
Growing data showing the AstraZeneca shot’s efficacy among the elderly in Britain led to the change of heart in Berlin, while France also eased a ban this week on giving 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 used in Germany, made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
Spahn had called for the gap between administering the two Pfizer shots to be extended to six weeks to stretch supply.
The current recommendation from the European Union’s health regulator is for the Pfizer vaccine to be administered at three-week intervals, in line with the company’s own guidance.