Germany has denied media reports that it has data suggesting the Oxford vaccine is drastically less effective in older people, blaming an apparent mix-up in the figures.
The German health ministry issued a swift denial after two German newspapers claimed Angela Merkel’s government has data that suggests the vaccine is largely ineffective in people aged over 75.
Handelsblatt newspaper claimed the vaccine’s effectiveness could be as low as 8 per cent, while Bild reported it was “under 10 per cent”.
The German health ministry said it has no such data and the reports appear to be based on a misunderstanding, adding the figure of 8 per cent in fact refers to the proportion of participants in clinical trials aged between 56 and 69.
AstraZeneca, the company that manufactures the Oxford vaccine, also used a denial.
Both newspapers claimed their reports were based on leaked information from within Mrs Merkel’s coalition government. That will raise questions over what was behind the leaks, which came amid a major row between AstraZeneca and the European Union.
The vaccine is expected to be approved for use in the EU on Friday, but the company has warned it will be unable to fulfil EU orders because of production problems.
The German newspaper reports centred on alleged concerns clinical trials for the Oxford vaccine may not provide reliable data because too few test participants were aged over 65. Both newspapers reported Mrs Merkel’s government was considering restricting its use to younger people.
“Even if the vaccine from AstraZeneca is approved by the European Medicines Agency, it should not be used in people over 65, as sufficient data have not yet been published,” Prof Peter Kremsner of Tübingen Institute for Tropical Medicine told Bild.
But the German health ministry said it did not have its own data showing the vaccine is ineffective.
Jens Spahn, the German health minister, who on Tuesday added his voice to calls for the EU to impose export restrictions on vaccines, declined to comment on the reports, describing them as “speculative”.