Europe hit by wave of Covid partly because it didn’t use AstraZeneca’s jab, suggests vaccine maker

Europe may be suffering a ferocious fourth wave of Covid hospital admissions because it delayed rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine to older people, the boss of the pharmaceutical giant suggested today.

Pascal Soriot, chief executive at AstraZeneca, said the decision by most major EU nations to restrict the jab earlier in the year could explain why Britain’s neighbours are now starting to record higher intensive care rates despite having similar case numbers to the UK.

Just 67million doses of AZ have been distributed across the continent compared to 440m of Pfizer’s, even though more recent studies suggest the UK jab provides longer protection against severe disease in older people. 

French President Emmanuel Macron was accused of politicising the roll out of the British-made vaccine in January when he trashed it as ‘quasi-effective’ for people over 65 and claimed the UK had rushed its approval, in what some described as Brexit bitterness.  

Although the vaccine was eventually reapproved for elderly people in France, Germany and other major EU economies, the reputational damage drove up vaccine hesitancy and led to many elderly Europeans demanding they be vaccinated with Pfizer’s jab. 

Some, such as Denmark and Norway, stopped using AZ for good. 

Today, Mr Soriot told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘When you look at the UK there was a big peak of infections but not so many hospitalisations relative to Europe.

‘In the UK this vaccine was used to vaccinate older people whereas in Europe initially people thought the vaccine doesn’t work in older people.’

France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy were among a slew of countries to restrict the Oxford-made vaccine for use in older people, claiming that there was not enough trial evidence to show that it was safe and effective.  Some European countries later shunned the jab all together after small number of reports of deadly blood clots emerged. 

Studies have shown that AstraZeneca’s jab, which uses a more traditional vaccine technology, produces a greater T-Cell response in older people compared to the new MRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna, which have been favoured in Europe.  

T-cells, which are more difficult to measure, are thought to provide longer lasting protection than antibodies which deliver an initial higher boost of protection but also see that defense fade faster over time. MRNA jabs are better at stimulating antibodies. 

Mr Soriot added: ‘T-cells do matter…it matters to the durability of the response especially in older people, and this vaccine has been shown to stimulate T-cells to a higher degree in older people,’ he said. 

‘We haven’t seen many hospitalisations in the UK, a lot of infections for sure…but what matters is are you severely ill or not.’    

The number of Covid intensive care in-patients in European countries like Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and France are on the rise and heading into levels not seen since the start of the year. In comparison the UK’s number of patients requiring intensive care is levelling off

Just 67million doses of AZ have been distributed across the continent compared to 440m of Pfizer's, even though more recent studies suggest the UK jab provides longer protection against severe disease in older people.

Just 67million doses of AZ have been distributed across the continent compared to 440m of Pfizer’s, even though more recent studies suggest the UK jab provides longer protection against severe disease in older people.

Britain was seen as the 'sick man of Europe' in the summer after its Covid infection rate outpaced other nations. But as the continent heads into winter many other European nations have seen their case rates storm ahead . The UK is testing up to 10 times more than its EU neighbours, which inflates its infection rate

Britain was seen as the ‘sick man of Europe’ in the summer after its Covid infection rate outpaced other nations. But as the continent heads into winter many other European nations have seen their case rates storm ahead . The UK is testing up to 10 times more than its EU neighbours, which inflates its infection rate

Europe’s relationship with the British made AstraZeneca vaccine has been fraught, with accusations of states playing politics with the vaccine. 

Macron’s explosive comments questioning AstraZeneca’s effectiveness provoked outrage in January when he told an assembly of reporters:  ‘Today we think that it is quasi-ineffective for people over 65.

Pascal Soriot, chief exec at AstraZeneca, suggested the decision by European states to restrict the jab earlier in the year could explain why they are now being hit hard by Covid

Pascal Soriot, chief exec at AstraZeneca, suggested the decision by European states to restrict the jab earlier in the year could explain why they are now being hit hard by Covid

‘What I can tell you officially today is that the early results we have are not encouraging for 60 to 65-year-old people concerning AstraZeneca.

His comments came following a decision by Germany’s vaccine commission to restrict the use of the AstraZeneca jab in older people, stating it was only 6.5 per cent effective for the age group.

The move and comments prompted concern from both British and European medics that some older people, who were particularly at risk from Covid infection would be put off getting a potentially life-saving jab. 

While the differences in vaccine policy could be one of the reasons for the differences in Covid cases and hospitlaisations between Europe and the UK there could be other factors at play. 

The war of words over vaccine sin the early months of 2021  came amid an ongoing dispute over vaccine supplies in Europe with some European states threatening to take shipments of vaccines destined for the UK for themselves. 

Some have suggested that Europeans have been less cautious than Britons when it came to social mixing in the last few months with people returning pre-pandemic shopping levels and commuting patterns.

Other analysts have suggested that the UK’s decision to reopen in July frontloaded our Covid cases to the summer whereas Britain’s European neighbours, who stayed in lockdown for longer, are now seeing this surge.  

Yesterday Austria became the first in Western Europe to impose a nationwide lockdown, with the Czech Republic and Slovakia have put the unvaccinated under stay-at-home orders. 

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany is also considering making vaccines compulsory and violent protests have erupted in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland over the weekend opposing curbs.

More research later found that younger people actually more likely to suffer the clotting issue, even though risk tiny at just one in 3.1 per 100,000 in people under 50-years-of-age. 

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk

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