Germany ‘cannot ignore AstraZeneca findings’, says Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended Germany's decision to advise against the use of AstraZeneca for under-60s in the country, saying findings could not be ignored.

Germany 'cannot ignore AstraZeneca findings', says Merkel
Jens Spahn and Angela Merkel on Tuesday. Photo: DPA

During a press conference with Health Minister Jens Spahn on Tuesday, Merkel said that experts have recorded in recent weeks “very rare but very serious cases of thrombosis” in people vaccinated with AstraZeneca.

“They are findings that (Germany’s vaccine commission) and finally us, cannot ignore,” she said.

Germany’s vaccine commission known as STIKO earlier Tuesday recommended that use of the jabs be halted for under-60s because of “currently available data on the occurrence of rare but very severe thromboembolic side effects” in younger vaccinated people.

READ ALSO: Germany restricts use of AstraZeneca jabs for under 60s

It intends to make another recommendation by the end of April on how to proceed with people under 60 who have already received a first dose of the vaccine, it said.

Pending this decision, ministers said people who are due for their second jab can either choose to take it if cleared by their attending doctor, or they can opt to wait for the commission to make its recommendation.

Under-60s can still decide to take the vaccine but only following “consultation with the doctor carrying out the vaccination … and with an individual risk analysis,” said ministers of Germany’s 16 states and Spahn in a policy statement earlier on Tuesday.

‘Openness and transparency’

“All this will bring uncertainty,” said Merkel when asked about a possible loss of confidence in the vaccine in Germany. “But openness and transparency are the best way to deal with such a situation.”

“Trust stems from the knowledge that every suspicion, every individual case will be examined,” she said.

Germany’s medicines regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), has now reported 31 cases of blood clots in people who have received AstraZeneca, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Tuesday.

Almost all cases are reportedly in younger and middle-aged women, prompting several German hospitals to suspend the use of the jab for women under 55 this week.

Germany has come under fire for its sluggish vaccination campaign.

Spahn stressed that Germany still expects to offer every adult a coronavirus jab by the end of the summer on September 21st.

“If delivery pledges are kept to and all vaccines receive their approvals as planned,” then Europe’s biggest economy would be able to vaccinate its population “by the end of summer”, said Spahn.

Spahn acknowledged that the development was “without question a setback” for the inoculation rollout. But he said the AstraZeneca vaccine was still “very effective” and could now be used more quickly in the over 60s age group.

The World Health Organization and the EU’s health watchdog have both deemed the AstraZeneca vaccine safe, but several countries have restricted its use over clotting fears.

READ ALSO: AstraZeneca vaccine ‘safe and effective’ against Covid-19, European Medical Agency concludes

In mid-March Germany and other countries temporarily stopped the use of the jab for an investigation into blood clots – before resuming with it.

The jab was also initially recommended only for under 65s as Germany said it lacked sufficient data on how effective it was for older people. But there was a U-turn on this decision in early March.

Member comments

  1. One does have to wonder if there’s more than just a medical element to the constantly shifting advice on the AZ vaccine. First Merkel told the media she was too old for the vaccine, and now it seems she’s too young. First there was Continental criticism of the effectiveness of the jab, yet then Brussels threatened to sue unless the EU got more of it. Now, unused stocks are piling up, especially in Italy because the public don’t want it after politicians have cast doubts on its safety. And throughout all this, the parallel results for things like blood clots in the Pfizer vaccine are never reported. No wonder folk are confused. My step-daughter in Köln, aged 30, has had her first dose of AZ during one of the windows when it was approved and yet now she’s been left full of doubt as to the wisdom of having accepted this vaccine in the first place and second, if she wants the second dose, whether it’ll even be available. One is left thinking that this has all been tragically mishandled.

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Vaccine scramble: How Spaniards want Covid jabs more than other Europeans

Whilst the EU warns that unused doses due to vaccine scepticism are piling up, Spaniards of all ages want to achieve immunity against Covid-19 as soon as possible, the data shows. 

Vaccine scramble: How Spaniards want Covid jabs more than other Europeans
People queue to get the vaccine in Barcelona. Photo: Lluis Gené/AFP

In Spain, where the Covid-19 rollout has gone from one of the slowest in the EU to currently one of the fastest, pretty much everyone wants to get vaccinated. 

With priority groups almost fully immunised, Spain is still beating daily records with 600,000 to 700,000 doses administered every day. 

The spike in cases among the country’s young population has led several regions to bring forward jabs for teens and twenty-somethings ahead of people in their thirties.

Despite the apparent lack of concern for the pandemic witnessed  in packed squares and streets over the past weeks, young people who have been able to take advantage of the vaccine offer have headed en masse to the vaccination centres. 

When an Asturian youth called Ana Santos told a local newspaper that “after the elderly, it should be our turn to get vaccinated as it’s not as if people in their forties go out, is it?”, her comments went down like a tonne of bricks among this age group, who demanded it was their turn to reach full immunisation first. 

Vaccine scepticism hasn’t been a problem for Spain as it has been for other countries, with President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen launching a warning recently that vaccine supplies are piling up, even though Brussels has reached its target of providing enough doses to fully vaccinate 70 percent of EU adults.

“If we look at the statistics, more and more doses remain unused,” von der Leyen told journalists in Strasbourg.

“This is linked to the fact that there is a greater distribution of vaccines, but in part also due to doubts about vaccination,” adding that it was crucial to reach the most sceptical parts of the population” in the face of the “worrying” presence of the Delta variant.

“Traditionally in Spain, we have had much less resistance or rejection towards vaccines, that’s always been the case,” vaccine expert at the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) Ángel Hernández-Merino told 20minutos. 

“In any vaccination programme, it’s vital to count on the population being willing to accept the vaccination”.

A June 2021 Eurobarometer study found that 49 percent of people in Spain want to get vaccinated “as soon as possible”, the highest rate in the entire EU (32 percent EU average). 

Whereas an average of 9 percent of EU citizens don’t ever want to get vaccinated, the rate in Spain is 4 percent.  Around 63 percent of Spaniards told Eurobarometer that they couldn’t understand why people are hesitant to get vaccinated and 71 percent said Covid vaccines are the only way for the pandemic to end. 

In Belgium, around a third of the population doesn’t want to get vaccinated.

In other countries where in the earlier stages of the Covid vaccination campaign it seemed  that available doses were easily used up it’s now becoming evident that sprinting through the age groups doesn’t guarantee that everyone is being vaccinated. 

Germany, the UK and the US, all seen as examples to Spain of how to quickly immunise a population, have all seen their campaigns slow down due to hesitancy and the summer holidays.

Spain’s Health Ministry doesn’t give data on how many people have rejected the vaccine and why, but stats do show that already more than half of the population (57.5 percent) have at least one dose and 43.3 percent are fully vaccinated. 

The Spanish government has stuck to its objective of vaccinating 70 percent of the country’s 47 million people before the end of August, even though it did fall short of its June target by more than half a million doses. 

Rather than vaccine scepticism, what’s been holding up Spain’s inoculation campaign have been doubts over the administration of second AstraZeneca vaccines and the decision to keep a reserve in case the country experienced delivery setbacks as it has in the past, with 2.9 million doses in storage reported in late June.