Europe's rejection of AstraZeneca vaccine 'behind high rates of hospitalisation'

23 November 2021, 16:20 | Updated: 23 November 2021, 18:50

France and Germany were among the countries to reject the AstraZeneca vaccine
France and Germany were among the countries to reject the AstraZeneca vaccine. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The rejection of the Astrazeneca vaccine by European countries might be behind the current high rates of hospitalisation on the mainland as infections surge, the boss of the pharmaceutical giant has suggested.

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Several European countries, including France, Germany and Italy, advised against its use in older people when the Covid-19 jab was rolled out earlier this year, with Emmanuel Macron particularly outspoken.

The French president, without presenting any evidence, claimed the jab was "quasi-ineffective on people older than 65, some say those 60 years or older."

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Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, pointed out today the UK had a big peak of infections but "not so many hospitalisations relative to Europe".

He said both antibodies and T cells were important factors in the body's immune response to a virus - and "this vaccine has been shown to stimulate T cells to a higher degree in older people".

He said: "Everybody's focused on antibodies, but antibodies you see them decline over time.

"What remains, and is very important, is this T cell response and as soon as the virus attacks you, they wake up and they come to the rescue and they defend you.

"But it takes them a little while, so you may be infected but then they come to the rescue and you don't get hospitalised.

"And it's really interesting when you look at the UK, there was a big peak of infections, but not so many hospitalisations relative to Europe.

"In the UK, this vaccine was used to vaccinate older people. Whereas in Europe initially people thought the vaccine doesn't work in older (people)..."

He added: "T cells do matter and in particular as it relates to the durability of the response, especially in older people.

"And this vaccine has been shown to stimulate T cells to a higher degree in older people."

Asked whether that is because of the AstraZeneca vaccine being used among older people, he added: "There's no proof of anything, we don't know, but we need more data to analyse this and get the answer."

Professor Matthew Snape, from the University of Oxford, is chief investigator of the Com-COV trial which compared antibody and T cell responses in those receiving standard or mixed vaccine schedules.

He said the picture was more complex than this.

"While a single dose of the AZ vaccine does induce a better T cell response than the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, shortly after two doses the T cell response was very similar," he said.

It comes as the chief investigator behind the vaccine said Covid-19 is "no longer a disease of the vaccinated".

Prof Sir Andrew Pollard said the latest wave of the virus in the UK will "directly translate into a stream of mostly unvaccinated patients" entering intensive care units (ICUs).

Writing in the Guardian with Prof Brian Angus, a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Oxford, he said: "To the public, the pandemic was and still is a silent pestilence, made visible by the images of patients fighting for their next breath and reporters at intensive care units talking about the fear of patients and the exhaustion of doctors and nurses from behind their fogged visors.

"This ongoing horror, which is taking place in ICUs across Britain, is now largely restricted to unvaccinated people. Generally, Covid-19 is no longer a disease of the vaccinated; vaccines tend to limit this suffocating affliction, with a few exceptions."