Italy has approved the use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for the over 65s, becoming the latest European country to reverse its stance and give the green light for use of the shot in older people.
The decision comes more than three months after the European Medicines Agency authorized the use of the shot from drug company AstraZeneca
developed in collaboration with the University of Oxford, for people aged over 18. But several member states, including Germany and France, didn’t clear it for use in people over 65, citing insufficient data for that age group.
“Further scientific evidence now available not only confirms the favorable safety profile of the vaccine, but indicates that, even in subjects over 65 years, the administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine is able to induce significant protection,” said Italy’s Superior Council of Health.
The French government has also revised its stance on the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine, saying last week that older people, including those aged between 65 and 74, with pre-existing conditions, could receive the shot from primary-care surgeries, hospitals and pharmacies.
Those aged over 75 in France will still be offered either the vaccine developed by U.S. drug company Pfizer
and its German partner BioNTech
or the shot made by U.S. biotech Moderna
in a vaccination center, said French health minister Olivier Véran last week.
Germany’s vaccine commission, which has also now approved the use of the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine in people aged over 65, has recommended extending the period between receiving the first and second doses to a maximum 12 weeks.
The reassessments should help accelerate the EU’s vaccination campaign, which has come under intense criticism for being too slow, escalating a dispute between AstraZeneca and the EU over persistent shortages of vaccines in the bloc caused by production issues.
Last week, Italy blocked the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca–Oxford vaccine that were destined for Australia, after the drug manufacturer failed to meet its EU contract commitments. It was the first use of new rules established by the EU in January to better control the sourcing of doses within the bloc.
The Italian foreign affairs ministry cited three main reasons for blocking the shipment, including that Australia isn’t considered a “vulnerable” country and that too many doses are being exported outside the EU compared with those being supplied to countries in the bloc.
France could block shipments abroad of COVID-19 vaccines, similar to moves on this front by Italy, Reuters reported on Friday.
AstraZeneca said last month that it is still aiming to supply 180 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine to the EU in the second quarter of the year.
The Anglo-Swedish drug company agreed in August 2020 to supply up to 400 million doses to the EU. Based on the revised delivery schedule, that included 90 million in the first quarter of 2021 and 180 million in the second quarter, as the company said earlier this month.