Germany, Belgium to recommend AstraZeneca jab for seniors

Germany will soon authorize the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for people over the age of 65, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday, the same day Belgium authorized its rollout to seniors.

The countries - both criticized for the slow pace of their inoculation drives - had previously said there was insufficient data about the effect of the vaccine on older age groups.

But both Merkel and the Belgian health minister said recent studies had now provided that data, leading to their respective policy changes.

"The [German] vaccine commission, whose recommendations we are happy to follow, will authorize AstraZeneca for older age groups," Merkel told reporters after talks with regional leaders about the next steps in fighting the pandemic.

The German government had been criticized in recent weeks for muddled communications about the jab, leading to a public perception that the AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective than those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

Some of the Germans first in line for a COVID-19 jab have spurned the AstraZeneca offer, leaving the country with hundreds of thousands of unopened doses.

Greenlighting the jab for the oldest age groups is expected to help Germany work through the backlog and pick up the pace of its sluggish rollout.

Merkel said the government had agreed to space out the first and second jabs of the AstraZeneca shot by a maximum of 12 weeks, to quickly give more people initial protection against the virus.

German politicians have also in recent days urged the government to relax its vaccination priority list to open up the AstraZeneca jab to more people.

Belgium, also criticized for the speed of its rollout, said Wednesday it would now administer the...

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