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The Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine is slightly more effective than that of Pfizer/BioNTech on some measures, the health secretary has said as he seized on new data and argued it should prompt other countries to re-evaluate their approach.
The study, showing a single shot of either vaccine cuts the risk of serious illness by more than 80%, is likely to pile pressure on European governments where politicians have cast doubts on the AstraZeneca jab’s efficacy based on limited early trial data. Take-up off the jab has fallen as a result.
The EU’s medical regulator approved the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for all age groups in January but the rollout met public scepticism as countries including France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Poland recommended it should not be used for over-65s due to a lack of data.
Speaking alongside Matt Hancock at a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, said the new data “clearly vindicated” Britain’s approach of giving doses to older age groups, while the health secretary said the UK had the best regulator in the world. More than 20 million people in the UK have received a Covid vaccine.
On Monday, Public Health England (PHE) released preliminary findings from more than 7.5 million people aged 70 and over in England showing that both the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines offer dramatic protection from serious Covid infections.
A single dose of either jab is about 80% effective at preventing hospitalisation and a single dose of Pfizer is 85% effective at preventing death with Covid-19, though there is not yet sufficient data on death prevention for the Oxford jab. PHE’s study, which is yet to be peer reviewed, found either vaccine is more than 80% effective at preventing hospital admission around three to four weeks after the first dose.
It showed that symptomatic Covid in the over-70s fell from around three weeks after one dose of both vaccines. Protection after developing symptoms fell 57-61% for one dose of Pfizer and 60- 73% for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, the study found.
People who had been vaccinated with one shot of Pfizer had a 43% lower risk of hospital admission and a 51% lower risk of death. For those vaccinated with the Oxford jab, there was 37% lower risk of emergency hospital admission though there was insufficient follow-up data to assess the impact on death.
Hancock said he was delighted at the results and signalled that EU countries might reconsider their stance. “There are signs that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is slightly more effective than the Pfizer vaccine but the Pfizer vaccine on these data is also extremely effective,” he said.
“So I absolutely hope that right around the world, people study these data and understand what they mean, which is that getting the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab or getting the Pfizer jab is the right thing to do. And it could save your life.”
Van-Tam said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation had taken the view that it was “not immunologically plausible” the vaccine would work on younger but not older age groups.
“I’m not here to criticise other countries but to say that I think, in time, the data emerging from our programme will speak for itself and other countries will be very interested in it,” he said, a comment described by Hancock as “very diplomatic”.
Van-Tam said the data “gives us those first glimpses of how, if we are patient, and we give this vaccine programme time to have its full effect, it is going to hopefully take us into a very different world in the next few months”.
After a number of EU politicians raised concerns over the AstraZeneca vaccine, including French president Emmanuel Macron, some EU countries saw stocks of the jab pile up with citizens unwilling to have the shot.
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel urged people to trust the vaccine in a newspaper interview last week, despite German officials apparently briefing previously that the jab may be ineffective in the over-65s. Merkel admitted there was “an acceptance problem with the AstraZeneca vaccine at the moment”. Carsten Watzl, head of the German Society for Immunology, urged Merkel to have the vaccine live on TV to prove it is safe.
Last week, a Guardian investigation found that four out of five AstraZeneca vaccine doses delivered to EU countries are yet to be used. Germany reported that it had administered just over a fifth of its 1.4m doses. Spain has used just under a third of its allocation and France has used 15% of its 1.1m doses of the vaccine.
Macron had said the jab was “quasi-ineffective” for over-65s, a claim which was criticised as irresponsible. However, last week Macron said he would gladly accept an AstraZeneca jab. “In view of the latest scientific studies, the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine has been proven,” Macron said. “My turn will come, but I’ve got time. If that’s the vaccine that’s offered to me, I will take it, of course.”
Dr Mary Ramsay, PHE head of immunisation, said the new research “adds to growing evidence showing that the vaccines are working to reduce infections and save lives” but said there was more data to study. “It is important to remember that protection is not complete and we don’t yet know how much these vaccines will reduce the risk of you passing Covid-19 on to others.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Hancock seizes on new data to counter EU doubts on Oxford jab | Vaccines and immunisation