The government decided on Thursday that the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine will only be administered to people aged 70 and lower, a move which has been made by several other European Union countries.
The government's immunoprophylaxis expert work group discussed the question of the AstraZeneca vaccine's effectiveness for the elderly on Wednesday and made its decision on Thursday morning, said family physician and work group member Marje Oona.
The committee recommended setting an age limit for the vaccine since the proportion of older people during the critical trials was too low to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine, committee member Alar Irs told ERR.
"There is currently not enough data for the vaccine's effectiveness among the elderly, since they were involved in studies later and their observation time was too short and there were not enough cases in the trials to draw final conclusions," Irs, a member of the committee for medicinal products for human use in the European Medicines Agency.
"The vaccine's effectiveness was mainly trialled among those aged 18-55, but since the sufficient development of antibodies has been proven for older people and the vaccine is better tolerated by the elderly than the young, we can generalize up to the age of 70 based on the results," Irs explained.
"Since there is no final conclusion on the vaccine's effectiveness among the elderly, we recommend using other vaccines when vaccinating those older than 70. An ongoing study in the United States will provide additional data in the coming months," Irs added.
The first batch of AstraZeneca vaccines is due to arrive in Estonia on Sunday, meaning the government will decide between now and then on setting an age limit, health minister Tanel Kiik (Center) says.
If this ended up being the case, there would then be two parallel vaccination queues, one for AstraZeneca, and one for vaccines made by U.S.-German firm Pfizer/BioNTech and also by Moderna, another U.S. supplier, whose vaccines have already been in use in Estonia.
AstraZeneca is due to deliver 75,000 doses this month, while the figure for the entire first quarter, i.e. to the end of March, is set at 270,000.
Several EU countries impose upper age limit on AstraZeneca vaccines
EU states which have set upper age limits on AstraZeneca's vaccine, ranging from 65 to 70 years of age, include neighboring Finland, as well as Sweden, Germany or France.
The reason given is that the vaccine has not been adequately studied with older age groups.
The European Medicines Agency gave the nod to Astra Zeneca's vaccine on January 29, though this followed media reports in Germany which said the doses would be limited to adults aged under 65 because of poor efficacy in older people.
Meanwhile, U.K. prime minister Boris Johnson dismissed the German claims, saying the vaccine was effective for all age groups, at a time when disputes are raging between the union and coronavirus vaccine manufacturers.
Expert committee to make decision
The Estonian government decision is directed by a committee made up of scientists, medical experts and industry representatives, ERR reports.
The government has also ordered 100,000 more Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines for the second half of the year, which have been earmarked for any re-vaccination needs concerning front-line healthcare workers and care home residents.
As of Wednesday, over 30,000 people in Estonia had been vaccinated against COVID-19 since Christmas, or around 2.3 percent of the population.
Close to 13,000 of the 30,000 have received their second vaccination, meaning they have completed the inoculation course.
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Kristjan Kallaste