It is time to re-assess the decision not to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to the elderly, according to the Tropical Medical Bureau.
It is nearly two weeks since the State decided not to offer AstraZeneca to the elderly – focusing on administering the mRNA-based Pfizer or Moderna jabs where possible.
The advice has made it more difficult to roll-out the vaccine to the elderly in rural areas – as the two mRNA vaccines have to be stored at super-cold temperatures.
The UK has continued to offer the AstraZeneca jab to people of all ages and last week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended it for use in adults of all ages.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the Medical Director of the Tropical Medical Bureau Dr Graham Fry said it is now time to rethink Ireland’s policy of not offering it to the elderly.
“I think it is one of the vaccines that we can get out there very easily by comparison to the other alternatives – and that is one of the issues, we need to get this vaccine out to people as quickly as possible,” he said.
“There is no question about the safety of the Oxford vaccine, that is not the issue. The issue is whether it works to the same extent in those older age groups – the 65s, 70-plus age group.
“The answer is, maybe it doesn’t, but it still gives some actual cover for the majority of people and the more we can get this out there, the quicker, the better.”
He said more details on the efficacy of all available vaccines will continue to come in over the coming months – but said decisions need to be made now.
“At this point in time, we don’t have all those facts but to be honest we don’t have all the facts as regards the Pfizer vaccine either,” he said.
“It is still early days. It looks as though it is giving really good antibody protection to people which is fantastic but the Oxford one is as well and it is being used widely in the UK and the WHO is recommending it too.
“So, in order to get the vaccine out there we are going to need to consider changing the policy we have at the moment.”
Dr Fry said it is going to be “immensely difficult” to vaccinate the elderly using only Pfizer and Moderna.
“Are you going to bring these people into a major vaccine centre?” he asked.
“These people have not been outside their homes for the last six months or 12 months and we are going to bring them to a vaccine centre to have their vaccine? It is much, much safer to give them the vaccine in their own homes if at all possible.”
Dr Fry said one way of ensuring the AstraZeneca vaccine works is to offer stronger doses.
“We made a decision about two or three weeks ago not to use the Oxford in that over-70s group and I think, at this stage, we need just to reassess that and look at what the WHO has said and various other international groups and the experiences from England as well,” he said.
“We have had this issue with regard to vaccines not being an effective in older age groups for many years – Hepatitis B is a good example – and what we have done there is just varied the dose given.
“I think you can look at it in the same way. Perhaps the over-70s need three individual doses of the Oxford vaccine.”
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