AstraZeneca vaccine to be used in essential workers over 65 years old

Health Ministry and autonomous communities agree to use the Janssen vaccine for older people

3 min
A healthcare worker with the AstraZeneca vaccine

BarcelonaEssential workers over the age of 65 can also receive the AstraZeneca vaccine. Last week it was decided to extend its use to people up to 65 years of age - previously the limit was 55 - and this Tuesday the public health commission has updated the vaccination strategy and implemented the changes, which include this exception for people over 65 years of age from essential active groups: health and social-health personnel who are not frontline workers, workers in health institutions and members of the State security forces and corps or teachers. According to health sources, this is nothing new this Tuesday, but last Wednesday the Interterritorial Council had already discussed all these modifications, although the minister, Carlonia Darias, did not specify it. In addition, AstraZeneca will continue to vaccinate the general population between 56 and 65 years of age, starting with the oldest.

Spain hopes to speed up the vaccination process with the introduction of the Janssen vaccine, which will be used in older age groups. This was decided this Tuesday by the public health commission, the body made up of senior officials from the Ministry of Health and the regional ministries, at a meeting prior to the Interterritorial Health Council, which will ratify the decision. "When doses of this vaccine are available, it can be used in parallel with the mRNA vaccines (Pzifer and Moderna) to increase the rate of vaccination of older age groups", the Ministry of Health explained in a press release after a meeting at which the vaccination strategy was updated for the fifth time.

Pfizer and Moderna, which have no age limits, will also be used for high-risk groups, simultaneously with administration to people aged 70-79. This category includes people who have haematopoietic stem cell transplants, solid organ transplants or are on a waiting list, people on haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis, oncohematological disease, solid organ cancer being treated with cytotoxic chemotherapy, lung cancer being treated with chemotherapy or immunotherapy, immunosuppressed HIV infection, people with primary immunodeficiency and people with Down's syndrome over 40 years of age. The updated strategy also states that people who have passed the virus and who are under 65 years of age should be given a single dose, as scientific evidence has shown that a second dose does not improve the immune response.

Germany sets limits

This vaccine has remained at the center of the controversy and the city-state of Berlin has suspended vaccination with AstraZeneca (AZ) among people under 60 years old, men and women, as announced this afternoon by the head of local health, Dilek Kalayci. Kalayci explained that he wanted to wait for the next recommendations of the German regulator after the latest cases of brain thrombi that have been detected in the country. The states of Brandenburg and Bavaria have also halted AZ vaccinations for the under-60s and a joint statement from all regional health officials was announced this afternoon.

A few hours before the announcement, the public hospitals in the capital had announced in a statement that they were suspending the vaccination of women under 55 with the vaccine because there have been a few rare cases of this type of thrombus, mostly among women in this age group.

The hospitals of the Charité and Vivantes groups have clarified that this was a precautionary measure. According to the weekly Der Spiegel in Germany, the Paul-Ehrlich Institute, a reference centre for vaccination, has detected 31 cases of cerebral venous thrombi in people who had received the vaccine, 29 of whom were women between the ages of 20 and 63. Nine of these patients died. In Germany, 2.7 million people have received an AstraZeneca dose.

However, the German authorities prefer not to differentiate between men and women, and to provide AZ vaccination for everyone from the age of 60 onwards. In practice, the standstill only affects healthcare workers, because in Germany only people over the age of 80 are vaccinated outside this age group. According to the daily Tagessspiegel two thirds of hospital staff have already been immunised, 70% with the AZ vaccine developed by Oxford researchers. The Charité spokeswoman has clarified that no complications with AZ have been detected in her centre, but that they prefer to wait for the final results.

Like most EU countries, Germany had stopped vaccination with AZ as a precaution after the first cases of serious brain thrombi, until the European Medicines Agency certified on 18 March that the vaccine was "effective and safe".

France has already decided after the EMA's green light that it will only administer the Anglo-Swedish vaccine to those over 55, as have Sweden and Finland, while Denmark and Norway have not resumed vaccination despite the European regulator's approval.

Suspension in Canada

Canada has also decided to halt the administration of AZ to those under 55 because of uncertainty about the benefits in relation to the risks," Shelley Deeks, number 2 of the National Advisory Committee on Immunisation, warned this morning. She argued that the new recommendations are the result of the latest data from Europe, which put the risk of thrombosis at one in 100,000, ten times higher than initially indicated.