German states call for unused AstraZeneca vaccine to be given to young people

FILE PHOTO: A syringe for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is pictured as a vaccination center opens at Berlin’s former Tegel TXL airport, amid the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID -19), in Berlin, Germany, February 10, 2021 Kay Nie

FRANKFURT – Several German states on Sunday demanded that unused AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccines be given to young people over concerns about side effects and effectiveness, as well as a recommendation to use them only for those under 65, resulted in low utilization of available doses.

Germany’s health ministry said this week it had given only 15% of AstraZeneca injections it had, confirming concerns that the Germans were selective and slowing vaccination efforts.

The elderly are the first to be vaccinated, but Germany has recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine be given only to people between the ages of 18 and 64. EU regulators have declared it safe for everyone.

The prime ministers of Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Saxony told German newspapers on Sunday that if shots aimed at older Germans remained unused, the prioritization system would have to be relaxed, allowing younger people to get it earlier than originally planned.

“We cannot afford the sitting and unused vaccine because some of those in the right reject it,” Baden-Württemberg Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann told Welt am Sonntag. Markus Soeder from Bavaria made similar remarks to Bild am Sonntag and Michael Kretschmer from Saxony to Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

Health authorities in some European countries – including Germany – are also facing resistance to the AstraZeneca vaccine after side effects, including fever and muscle pain, caused some frontline workers to become ill. The other injections approved in Europe, developed by Pfizer and Moderna, have been linked to similar temporary side effects.

The German government urged the public on Friday to take the AstraZeneca vaccine while the director of the Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, Lothar Wieler, said data from Britain and Israel showed it was “very, very efficient”.

The recommendation that the vaccine is only intended for people under the age of 65 came from the German Expert Group on Vaccine Use (STIKO). STIKO chief Thomas Mertens said on Friday he would update his recommendation very soon.

“Somehow everything went wrong,” he told ZDF television.

James R. Rhodes