AstraZeneca CEO blames Europe’s Covid surge on rejection of its vaccine

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Claims by the AstraZeneca CEO are dismissed by scientists

Scientists have dismissed claims from Pascal Soriot, the AstraZeneca CEO, that the low uptake of his firm’s vaccine by elderly Europeans could be to blame for the current surge in Covid-19 infections in mainland Europe. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that differences in the immunity afforded by various vaccines might mean that people dosed with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab would have longer-lasting protection. 

He explained that he believes the T-Cell immunity created by the Ox/AZ jab is greater. T-Cells are a class of immune cells that educate antibody-producing B cells about the nature of the viral threat and directly kill infected cells. 

Soriot said: “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 [the Oxford/AstraZeneca] vaccine was used to vaccinate older people whereas in Europe people thought initially the vaccine doesn’t work in older people.

“What I’m saying is that T-cells do matter and in particular 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. There’s no proof of anything … we don’t know. But we need more data to analyse this and get the answer.”

Germany was the first European country to discourage the use of the AstraZeneca jab to people over 65 in late January and other countries quickly followed suit, although many revised this after further studies were released. Later on, following a report by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) possibly linking the vaccine and very rare cases of blood clots, there was then a recommendation for it to be used only for older age groups. The mixed messages left many reluctant to receive the dose, to the frustration of the AstraZeneca CEO. 

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said it would be “foolhardy” to try to attribute the differences in the shape of individual countries’ infection curves to any single factor. “I don’t know where you’d start to do that scientifically,” he said. “All of the vaccines are, to varying degrees, pretty amazing. They all induce the full gamut of immunity, including neutralising antibodies and [different types of] T-cells.”

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Written by

Claire Gordon


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