Italy latest EU govt to approve AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine for over-65s as efficacy fears subside

The Italian government has approved the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine for people aged over 65, the health ministry has said, a month after Italy and other EU states barred the elderly from getting the jab amid efficacy fears.

“Scientific evidence that has become available … indicates that, even in people aged over 65, the vaccine is capable of providing significant protection,” the ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by the Anglo-Swedish company in partnership with Oxford University, had at first been given approval in Italy only for people aged 18 to 55, but the country’s health chiefs extended its use to those aged up to 65.

Italy was among several EU nations to slap age limits on the jab following its approval for adults by the bloc’s drugs regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA), at the end of January.

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The Italian had regulator noted that there was “a level of uncertainty” about the EMA’s estimate of the vaccine’s efficacy of 60 percent, because most participants in clinical trials for the jab had been aged 18 to 55.

Italy’s efficacy fears were echoed in concerns raised by other member states, including France, Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Belgium, which all placed age limits on the vaccine.

French President Emmanuel Macron sparked particular outrage at the time by claiming the AstraZeneca vaccine was “quasi-ineffective” for the elderly.

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Like Italy, the regulators of Germany, Sweden, Belgium, and France have all overturned their decisions in recent weeks and recommended administering the jab to the over-65s as well.

Italy’s new prime minister, Mario Draghi, has taken a firm stance on the bloc’s sluggish vaccine rollout, telling fellow EU leaders, “we have to go faster, much faster,” during a virtual summit at the end of last month.

He also called on the bloc to take tougher action against suppliers that fail to meet their commitments – a reference to a public row between the EU and AstraZeneca over vaccine shortages in January.

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