The World Health Organisation has said the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in all adults – including the over-65s.
A number of countries have decided not to offer the AstraZeneca jab to the over-65s, due to the limited number of elderly people included in the drug’s clinical trials.
Ireland has opted to offer people over the age of 70 the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines where ‘practicable and timely.’
This evening the WHO SAGE (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies) committee recommended the AstraZeneca jab for anyone over the age of 18 – with no upper age limit.
Speaking after the announcement, SAGE spokesman Dr Joachim Hombach said the recommendation is based on new data that has become available.
“What you could see here is actually that the immune response in people above 65 is almost the same as in younger people,” he said.
“This makes us very confident that this is a vaccine that is actually protective and well protective in people above 65-years-of-age.”
The SAGE Committee also said an eight-to-12-week interval between doses provides the best immune response.
WHO Director of Immunisation Dr Katherine O'Brien said there is “no reason” to think the vaccine will be much less effective in the elderly than in the young.
“With multiple vaccines in a programme, there may be the choice to preferentially use one or another for different uses but there is no reason, especially because the over-65s are at the very highest risk of severe disease and death, that a product that has significant efficacy … it should go ahead and be used.”
The WHO also said it expected the AstraZeneca vaccine to be effective in preventing severe disease from the South African variant.
South Africa has suspended the rollout of the jab after a small trial suggesting it may not be as effective against the new variant.
The study found that it offers only limited protection against mild disease; however, officials believe it will still prevent severe disease and hospitalisation.
Dr O'Brien from the World Health Organisation says scientists still want to see more evidence:
“We do have an assessment for SAGE that there is a plausible expectation that the vaccine will have efficacy against severe disease albeit we don’t have the evidence in hand – but there is plausibility for that being the case.”
Ireland has recorded 11 cases linked to the South African strain so far.
The first AstraZeneca doses are due to arrive here next week.
Germany, Austria, Sweden, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain and Poland are currently only recommending the AstraZeneca jab for people under 65, and Italy and Belgium are only giving it to those under 55.
Reporting from Stephen Murphy