Regulators have authorised AstraZeneca‘s coronavirus vaccine for use in adults throughout the European Union amid criticism that the bloc is not moving fast enough to vaccinate its population.
The European Medicines Agency’s expert committee unanimously recommended on Friday that the vaccine be used in people 18 and over.
The recommendation came despite concerns having been raised this week that not enough data existed to prove it works in older people, and some countries indicated they may not give it to the elderly.
The EMA’s decision requires final approval from the European Commission, a process that occurred swiftly with the other vaccines.
With trials showing about 60% efficacy, the vaccine appears to offer less protection than ones already authorised, but experts have said any vaccine with a rate of over 50% could help stop outbreaks.
The agency recommended the vaccine’s use in older people, despite limited data regarding its efficacy in people over 55, citing the immune responses seen and experience with other vaccines.
“At least some protection is expected,” Bruno Sepodes, of the EMA’s expert committee, said on Friday at a news briefing. He acknowledged that “the exact level of protection cannot be estimated for the time being.”
Many countries on the continent have been struggling to vaccinate people as quickly as Britain, Israel, the US and elsewhere.
It was long hoped that the AstraZeneca shot would help speed things up at a time when countries face surging cases in a pandemic that has taken the lives of more than 400,000 people in the 27-nation EU.
The EU bet heavily on the shot, which is cheaper and easier to handle than some other vaccines, with orders for 300 million doses to be delivered after authorisation and options for another 100 million doses.
EMA’s decision authorises AstraZeneca‘s vaccine to be used across the bloc, but individual countries can still decide how and to whom they will give the doses they receive.
Lithuania, for instance, will not use the vaccine in older people, the country’s deputy Health Minister Zivile Simonaityte said, according to the Baltic News Service.
Germany has indicated it could follow a similar path. The country’s independent vaccine advisory committee recommended Friday that the shot only be given to people under 65.