Does AstraZeneca Have Only 8% Efficacy?

Covid-19 plush from Giant Microbes, photo by Alien Motives

This is going to be a short piece about lessons. To that end, let me demonstrate that I’ve learned the rule about hooking a reader with a flashy headline question and then waiting until the final third of an article before providing the answer. I’ve learned it… and I hate it. So, no, AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine does NOT have only 8% efficacy for the elderly, as was widely reported in Germany recently.

It’s important to recognize why that was in most of their newspapers, though. That’s the first lesson: it’s a good rule of thumb to trust experts, but when they produce a result which seems to be contrary to reason, expectation and logic, demand they explain themselves before granting their statements credence… particularly when their field of expertise is not directly related to their statements.

If those words sound familiar, it’s because the concept was a component of an editorial I wrote last week. Rhis is a real-world example, dropped into everyone’s lap.

The row began when a German newspaper, Handelsblatt, published a story indicating that German government officials were considering restricting use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on those aged 65 or older, because the efficacy was only 8%. Other papers picked up the story and distributed it throughout Germany and to a lesser extent the entire EU.

AstraZeneca, UK regulatory officials who had already cleared the vaccine for use, and virologists throughout the world balked at that assessment. They directed people toward the published findings in The Lancet, which demonstrated an efficacy closer to 70% at preventing new infections… far from ideal, but much better than the virtually worthless 8%.

The 8% number has since been slightly modified with Handelsblatt’s follow-up story that included a statement from a German Health Ministry official: “A mix-up of the numbers is impossible. On the basis of the data made available to us so far, the efficacy among the over-60s lies below 10%.”

At issue, according to researchers, is the fact that just under 10% of the group participating in the trial testing was aged 65 or over. The researchers who produced the data believe that to be where the confusion lies. It’s not that the vaccine has an 8% efficacy in that age group, but that 8% of the participants were in that age group. The published data indicates that antibody development is virtually identical between people under 65 and those at or above that age.

Another lesson: learning math is important.

Still, at least one ranking government official is sticking by their interpretation, and the reporters are accurately presenting their statements. More, because the German Health Ministry employs a variety of experts in biology (including the subordinate field of virology) their expertise is being used to bolster the reputation of the Ministry when it comes to making health decisions.

As yet, the only statements regarding diminished effectiveness of the vaccine have come from political and clerical experts, not researchers. But those statements have been enough to spread concerns about the vaccine throughout the populace, and other political leaders are responding.

Other EU nations are following Germany’s lead. France, Sweden and Poland have ruled out using the AstraZeneca for the elderly, even as some EU nations like Ireland have approved it for use throughout the age spectrum. The US is waiting until a large-scale trial of 300,000 volunteers performed in association with American researchers completes before moving forward toward possible authorization of the vaccine.

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.