Austria set to approve AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65s

Despite concerns about its effectiveness, Austria is set to buck the trend of almost all of its neighbours in recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged over 65.

A pateint receives the AstraZeneca Vaccine Oli SCARFF / AFP

The head of Austria’s Vaccination Board Ursula Wiedermann-Schmidt has said she will ask health minister Rudolph Anschober to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine for people aged over 65 this week in an interview with ZIB 1.

The approval comes despite concerns surrounding the effectiveness of the vaccine. 

Several other European countries have not recommended the vaccine be administered to people over 65, including Germany, Italy, France and Sweden. 

Neighbouring Switzerland has declined to approve the vaccine entirely – and is now considering selling the 5.3 million doses it has already purchased

There has also been resistance to the vaccine from those awaiting vaccination in Austria. Two weeks ago, around 500 staff at Vienna’s AKH hospital signed a petition saying they did not want to take the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Kronen Zeitung reported it as a “vaccination riot”.

Effective in preventing infections

Maria Paulke-Korinek, head of the vaccination department in the Ministry of Health told  ZIB2 she would wait for the final decision of the vaccination committee.

The vaccine is already approved for all ages over 18 by the European Medicine Agency, but Austria did not previously recommend it for the older age groups due to a lack of data.

Wiedermann-Schmitt said more data had come from the British health authorities which demonstrated the vaccine was effective in preventing infections in older age groups.

She said providing the vaccine deliveries were met, using AstraZeneca for older groups could speed up Austria’s vaccination strategy. 

Austria has ordered two million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but there were well-publicised delivery problems in the first quarter of the year to the EU, resulting in only 40 million of the promised 90 million doses being delivered. 

On Tuesday EU insiders told Reuters that the company had informed the EU it also expected to deliver less than half the vaccines it was contracted to supply between April and June.

However, the company also issued a statement saying it would try to increase production to stick to its 180 million vaccine doses commitment. 

Austrian Health Minister Rudolf Anschober (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

However, despite these setbacks, Health Minister  Rudolf Anschober said in a statement that even if AstraZeneca should actually deliver less in the second quarter of the year, anyone who wants to can will be offered a vaccination by the summer.

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Austria to phase out AstraZeneca vaccine

Austria will phase out AstraZeneca from its Covid-19 immunisation programme because of delivery problems and wariness among the population following reports of the vaccine's rare side effects.

Austria to phase out AstraZeneca vaccine
Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Austria becomes the third European country to drop AstraZeneca, after Norway and Denmark ditched the vaccine over rare cases of severe blood clots in people receiving the jab.

“We will probably continue to do first shots with AstraZeneca until early June, and then that’s it… AstraZeneca will be discontinued,” Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told private TV channel Puls 24 late Monday.

Mueckstein said those who received a first shot of AstraZeneca would still get a second shot of the vaccine, but officials would determine which other vaccine to use for any refresher jabs later.

UPDATED: How can I get vaccinated for Covid-19 in Austria?

Mueckstein, a doctor himself, insisted AstraZeneca was “safe” but said Austria had taken the decision to discontinue it because of “bad compliance among the population”, “bad press” and “delivery problems”.

The European Commission is suing the British-Swedish pharmaceutical group over its failure to deliver millions of doses of its vaccine.

A third of Austria’s nine million people has received at least one Covid-19 shot.

The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization both recommend continued use of the vaccine, arguing that the benefits far outweigh the associated risks.