ROME (Reuters) – Italy on Monday recommended the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines for those aged over 65, the health ministry said in a statement, overcoming previous doubts that the drug might not be very effective on the elderly.
When European regulators approved the vaccine in January, they said there were not enough results to show how well it worked for those older than 55. Italy initially imposed 55 as the age limit, but later raised that to 65 ahead of further reviews.
The latest health ministry circular removes any limit on usage, with the exception of “extremely vulnerable” people.
“Scientific evidence that has become available … indicates that, even in people aged over 65, the vaccine is capable of providing significant protection,” the ministry said.
Some 1.5 million of the 6.5 million doses Italy has received come from AstraZeneca, official data shows. The vast majority of its shots come from Pfizer, with the remainder from Moderna.
Italy, which has a population of around 60 million, had administered 5.41 doses of vaccines as of early Monday, with 1.65 million people receiving the recommended two shots.
“With a limited availability of shots… we need to ensure protection to those most likely to develop severe symptoms or even fatal forms of COVID-19,” the healthy ministry said.
The decision to extend the availability of the AstraZeneca vaccine follows similar moves in other EU states, including Germany and Sweden, and is in line with the pledge of the new government led by Mario Draghi to speed up the campaign.
In an effort to save shots for those most in need, Italy last week said it would administer just a single dose to people infected with COVID-19 between three and six months beforehand.
(Reporting by Angelo Amante; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Alex Richardson)