Yesterday's extraordinary row over the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has just become even stranger. The German government spent much of Tuesday rubbishing reports they had found the jab to be only 8 per cent effective among the over 65s. A claim that was published by the Düsseldorf-based financial paper Handelsblatt following a tip-off from anonymous sources within the German government. Instead, according to the country's health ministry, there had been a very embarrassing misunderstanding:
“At first glance it seems that the reports have mixed up two things: about 8 per cent of those tested in the AstraZeneca efficacy study were between 56 and 69... But one cannot deduce an efficacy of only 8 per cent with older people from that.
Surely an open and closed case of mortifying mathematical misreading? Not according to Gregor Waschinski, the paper's political correspondent whose byline appeared above the 1,200 word story. He stuck by his reporting, saying the 8 per cent efficacy figure had been shared by a 'senior figure' within the German government and had been 'corroborated by other sources'. That senior German figure, according to Waschinski, is convinced that they are correct about the low efficacy rate:
— Gregor Waschinski (@washingtonski) January 26, 2021
3/The senior official with intimate knowledge of German health policy maintains that he did not misread numbers as was suggested. According to regulatory and political sources in Germany, questions remained with regard to limited clinical data provided by AZ on elderly age groups
It seems the Handelsblatt journalist is now betting his credibility on whether the vaccine will be approved by EU regulators. A decision by the European Medicines Agency is due on Friday — and it is worth noting that the German paper Bild also ran a story yesterday about the Oxford jab, again from an anonymous German government source. According to that paper, the EMA is planning to reject the UK-developed vaccine because of its low efficacy among the over-65s (or, at the very least, dictate that the jab should only be used on young'uns).
So was this just a briefing war that went disastrously wrong? A German official lashing out at AstraZeneca after the firm cut the number of jabs for the EU's failing vaccine programme? Or, just perhaps, we really could see fireworks on Friday...