AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine should only be given to people aged between 18 and 64, Germany's vaccine committee STIKO has said in a draft update to its vaccine recommendation.

"There are currently insufficient data available to assess the vaccine efficacy from 65 years of age," the committee said in the resolution made available by the German health ministry.

"The AstraZeneca vaccine, unlike the mRNA vaccines, should only be offered to people aged 18-64 years at each stage."

The European Medicines Agency is expected to make a decision on whether to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine tomorrow.

In response to reports that German authorities have not advised AstraZeneca for use in the over 65s, HSE Chief Executive Paul Reid said that "we have to let the EMA process to continue".

He said the HSE is looking at everything to do with vaccine roll-out from a contingency perspective.

Mr Reid said if the AstraZeneca vaccine does get approval, the HSE will look at what settings it is approved in and how the roll-out plan mobilises to deliver that. 

"We would always be looking at various scenarios," he said

The HSE's chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said "a relatively small proportion of people in older age groups were examined" in the AstraZeneca trials.

He added: "Whether you can extrapolate from that to say therefore that it is not effective because of a dearth of evidence of one demographic is up to the EMA to determine. 

"We know that it is being deployed at scale in the UK." 

Dr Henry said the HSE has seen the report from the German vaccine committee "but the EMA is who we listen to tomorrow".

We need your consent to load this rte-player contentWe use rte-player to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Latest coronavirus stories

AstraZeneca denied on Monday that its Covid-19 vaccine is not very effective for people over 65, after German media reports said officials fear the jab may not be approved in the European Union for use in the elderly.

The German health ministry said of the 341 people vaccinated in the group aged 65 and over, only one became infected with the coronavirus, meaning the STIKO had not been able to derive a statistically significant statement.

AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said the company had less data than other drug makers on the elderly because it started vaccinating older people later.

"But we have strong data showing very strong antibody production against the virus in the elderly, similar to what we see in younger people," he told Die Welt newspaper in an interview earlier this week.

Earlier, Pfizer and BioNTech said their vaccine is effective against Covid-19 variants that have emerged in Britain and South Africa.

In a statement, the two companies said the "small differences" detected in tests comparing the original virus and the recent versions "are unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine".

The vaccine appeared to lose only a small amount of effectiveness against an engineered virus with three key mutations from the new coronavirus variant found in South Africa, according to a laboratory study.

The study by Pfizer and scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), which has not yet been peer-reviewed, showed a less than two-fold reduction in antibody titer levels.

This indicates the vaccine would likely be effective in neutralising a virus with the so-called E484K and N501Y mutations found in the South African variant.

The results are more encouraging than another non-peer-reviewed study from scientists at Columbia University yesterday, which used a slightly different method and showed antibodies generated by the shots were significantly less effective against the South Africa variant.

One possible reason for the difference could be that the Pfizer findings are based on an engineered coronavirus, and the Columbia study used a pseudovirus based on the vesicular stomatitis virus, a different type of virus.

UK says AstraZenica must deliver vaccine supply amid EU row

The UK has said it must receive all of the Covid-19 vaccines it has ordered and paid for after the European Union asked AstraZeneca if it could divert supplies of the Oxford-developed shots from Britain.

The EU, which is far behind the United States, China and the UK on rolling out a vaccine, demanded AstraZeneca spell out how it would supply the bloc with reserved doses of Covid-19 vaccine from plants in Europe and Britain. 

AstraZeneca, which is headquartered in Cambridge, England, has offered to bring forward some deliveries of its vaccine to the EU which has asked the drug maker if it can divert doses from the UK to make up for a shortfall in supplies.

"I think we need to make sure that the vaccine supply that has been bought and paid for, procured for those in the UK, is delivered," Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove told LBC Radio.

"Our priority has to be making sure that the people in our country who are vulnerable and who we have targeted for vaccination, receive those jobs in those arms," Mr Gove said.

Asked repeatedly by the BBC if the British government would prevent AstraZeneca from diverting essential vaccine supplies from Britain to the EU, Mr Gove said the crucial thing was that Britain received its orders as planned and on time.

"It is the case that the supplies which have been planned, paid for and scheduled should continue," he said. "Absolutely, there will be no interruption to that."

"But again, I think that the right approach to take with our friends in Europe is to make sure that we foster cooperative dialogue to see how we can do everything we can to help."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it would have been a "great pity" if the UK had stayed in the EU's vaccine programme rather than set up its own plan.

Boris Johnson visited a mobile vaccination site supplied with the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday

Ireland South MEP Billy Kelleher said that AstraZeneca should publish the agreement with the EU and honour its contractual obligations.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Mr Kelleher said this is not a "first come, first served" situation.

"Contracts are not like going to the chipper and queuing for fish and chips on a Friday night. The idea is that you sign contracts in good faith and whether it is the contract that is signed in June or in August.

"This is not a first come first served situation this is a very serious issue. The EU has put up substantial sums of money to ensure that companies, not just AstraZeneca, but many companies across the globe would have the capacity to increase their ability to expand."

An MP in Mr Johnson's Conservative Party said the UK is not getting special treatment when it comes to supply of the AstraZeneca jab compared with the EU.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Andrew Bridgen said conflict is coming because the EU has "seriously mishandled" the purchasing and ordering of vaccines.

He said it appears the UK will have "to bail out" the EU, is prepared to do that and "top of the list" would be Ireland because of the land border.

But Mr Bridgen said is not sure the EU would allow the UK to give vaccines directly to Ireland.