Oxford University responds to claims their vaccine is inefficient in over-65s

Image Description: a cartoon image of the COVID-19 virus with the Radcliffe Camera in the background. 

Oxford University has responded to claims that the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in over-65s is not as high as previously reported. The German Heath Ministry has attributed the reports to a misreading of statistics.

German media reports had reported that the efficacy of the vaccine in the older population was as low as 8%. A report in Handelsblatt, a German newspaper, has suggested that efficacy was only 8% for over-65s. It appears, according to a statement from the German Health Ministry, that the paper confused the 8% figure, as it was actually the percentage of people in the trial that were between the ages of 56 and 65.

“At first glance it seems that the [newspaper] reports have mixed up two things: about 8 per cent of those tested in the AstraZeneca efficacy study were between 56 and 69 [years old], only 3-4 per cent over 70 (MHRA Approval Public Assessment Report)”.

“But one cannot deduce an efficacy of only 8 per cent with older people from that.”

The Ministry added that: “Moreover, the [European Medicines Agency] is currently evaluating the studies. It has been known since the autumn that in the first studies that AstraZeneca submitted fewer older people took part than in the studies of other producers”. The report from the regulator is expected on Friday.

A spokesperson for Oxford University categorically denied the claims.

“There is no basis for the claims of very low efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine which have been circulating in the media.”

“The results of the clinical trials have already been published transparently in five peer-reviewed scientific publications showing similar immune responses in younger and older adults and a good safety profile, and high efficacy in younger adults. Furthermore, the preliminary efficacy data in older adults supports the importance of this vaccine for use in this population.”

AstraZeneca also defended the vaccine, describing the reports as completely incorrect.

“Reports that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine efficacy is as low as 8% in adults over 65 years are completely incorrect.”

“In November, we published data in The Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100% of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose”.

In the Lancet report in November, AstraZeneca highlighted that the reason that there were fewer older people in their vaccine trials is that they were recruited later in the trial process.

This comes as AstraZeneca has reduced its supply of the vaccine to the EU for the first quarter. It had previously been announced that the supply to the EU would be cut by approximately 60%, from 80 million doses by the end of March to only 31 million. The EU’s Health Minister described the new schedule as “not acceptable”, and emphasised that in future drug companies would be expected to give early notification if they were going to export vaccines to third countries.

Senior British politicians have responded to the media reports by highlighting the importance of combating misinformation. Sajid Javid, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, commented that “We will all lost if threats and misinformation are allowed to impede their progress”.

In a press conference on Monday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced that 78.7% of over-80s have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the last week over 2.5 million people have been vaccinated, at a rate of 250 people a minute.

Image Credit: Tian Chen