PARIS — French President Emmanual Macron said Friday the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine appeared to be “quasi-ineffective” on people older than 65 — just hours before the EU’s drugs regulator approved it for use on all adults.
“The real problem on AstraZeneca is that it doesn’t work the way we were expecting it to,” Macron told a group of reporters, including POLITICO, in Paris. “We’re waiting for the EMA [European Medicines Agency] results, but today everything points to thinking it is quasi-ineffective on people older than 65, some say those 60 years or older.”
Later in the day, the EMA gave the vaccine the green light. It said: “There are not yet enough results in older participants (over 55 years old) to provide a figure for how well the vaccine will work in this group. However, protection is expected, given that an immune response is seen in this age group and based on experience with other vaccines; as there is reliable information on safety in this population, EMA’s scientific experts considered that the vaccine can be used in older adults.”
German experts said Thursday that people aged 65 or older should not be given the AstraZeneca coronavirus jab, dealing another blow to European vaccination efforts. The draft recommendation from a committee that advises the country’s public health institute stated that more data is needed to determine the effectiveness of the vaccine in this age group.
AstraZeneca rejected the German experts’ view, stating that the latest analysis of the clinical trial data in fact supports efficacy in those over 65 and that this information is expected to be published by the EMA in the coming days. A spokesperson added that reports of efficacy being low in adults over 65 is “not an accurate reflection of the totality of the data.”
Macron said problems with the AstraZeneca jab will complicate the vaccination strategy in the EU, given that it is largely based on prioritizing vaccinating the senior population and healthcare workers. He said another unforeseen twist was that the vaccines that are more complicated to produce and store — those based on the mRNA technology that had never been used before to produce a vaccine — are the ones that appear to perform best.
“What no one foresaw, which is both wonderful and one of the aspects of this crisis, is that the vaccines that worked best were the most complicated… meaning in this crisis we’re saying the Twingo is taking longer to produce than the Tesla that we had never produced before,” he said, comparing the basic Renault model with Tesla’s electric car.
Although France is home to the Pasteur Institute which cracked the HIV virus and is named after the inventor of the rabies vaccine, and to other Big Pharma companies like Sanofi, no French lab has produced an approved COVID-19 vaccine yet.
Macron questioned the strategy by some countries, including the U.K., to prioritize a first dose of a vaccine whose effectiveness is based on two doses taken within 28 days.
“If we look at the strategy of the U.K. — I’m not the commentator on others’ strategy, but we have to be very careful right now in how we compare vaccine strategies. The goal is not to have the biggest number of first injections,” he said.
“When you have all the medical agencies and the industrialists who say you need two injections for it to work, a maximum of 28 days apart, which is the case with Pfizer/BioNTech. And you have countries whose vaccine strategy is to only administer one jab, I’m not sure that it’s very serious,” Macron added.
“When I listen to the scientists who say we accelerate the mutations with only one injection because the virus adapts… we are lying to people when we tell them they’ve been vaccinated by getting one injection of a vaccine that consists of two injections.”
The vaccination campaign in France got off to a slow start in comparison with most EU countries and the U.K., placing it near the bottom of the rankings, though it has ramped up its speed in recent weeks.