Germany’s independent vaccine committee has formally approved giving the AstraZeneca jab to people aged 65 and over, the country’s health minister has said.
Jens Spahn said the decision was “good news for older people who are waiting for a vaccination. They will get vaccinated faster”.
The vaccine, made by British/Swedish company AstraZeneca, is one of three authorised for use in the 27-nation European Union.
But several countries, including Germany, initially restricted its use to people aged under 65, or in some cases under 55, citing a lack of data on its effectiveness in older people.
The publication of data and pressure to speed up the EU’s slow vaccine rollout has however prompted authorities across the bloc to revise their guidance.
The independent committee, known by its German acronym StiKo, also advised waiting 12 weeks between administering the first and second AstraZeneca jabs, as studies show this increases the vaccine’s effectiveness, Mr Spahn said.
He added that both recommendations would be swiftly incorporated into Germany’s vaccine rules, which the government announced late on Wednesday would be overhauled to allow more people to get the jabs sooner.
Restrictive rules and a rush of deliveries mean Germany is sitting on a stockpile of more than two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine even as many who want it cannot get the shots.
France, Belgium and Italy loosened their age restrictions for the AstraZeneca vaccine earlier this week as they scramble to confront a looming third spike in Covid-19 cases driven by more contagious virus variants.
Data published this week from England’s mass vaccination programme showed that both the AstraZeneca and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines were around 60% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in people over 70 after a single dose.
The analysis released by Public Health England, which has not been peer reviewed yet, also showed that both vaccines were about 80% effective in preventing hospitalisations among people over 80.
The World Health Organisation’s chief for Europe, Dr Hans Kluge, said on Thursday that new infections had risen 9% across Europe in the past week, halting six weeks of declines.
Germany is facing a third spike in infections, fuelled by the more contagious variant first detected in Britain, Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said.
Five of the counties with the highest rates of infection were in the southern German state, close to the border with the Czech Republic, which currently has one of the worst outbreaks in Europe.
Germany’s disease control agency reported 11,912 newly confirmed infections in the past day, taking the overall total to 2.47 million. The number of Covid-related deaths had risen by 359 to 71,240, the Robert Koch Institute said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed on Wednesday to extend some lockdown measures until March 28, while laying down a road map for relaxing rules in areas with low numbers of infections.