Ghana took delivery of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the United Nations-backed COVAX initiative in late February. Sooner had the vaccines arrived, than conspiracies of age-related risks arose.
A publication by Ghanaweb.com, knustnews.com and other news outlets suggested Ghana took delivery of vaccines that other countries had rejected over concerns of age-related risks. It cited President of France, Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, rejecting the jab.
“One key issue that has exacerbated non-acceptance of the vaccine has to with the age limit placed on it. It has become abundantly clear that this particular vaccine reportedly does not favour the aged, as evidenced by the refusal of the German Chancellor to accept it at age 68,” the news story stated.
The story again stated, “there are fears that older people with some underlying conditions may be allergic to the vaccine or may have dire complications if they take the jab.”
The publication further added that “calls have been intensified by some stakeholders for President Akufo-Addo and his government to take a second look at the vaccine and opt for a more acceptable brand which wholesomeness and efficacy will not be in doubt.
Meanwhile, Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, has said she will not take the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because at 66, she is older than the upper age limit for it. The German authorities have not approved the vaccine for people over 65.”
In this report, Factcheck-Ghana probes the veracity of this claim to determine whether Ghanaians 65 and above can take the jab.
Did the European Union reject AstraZeneca?
Yes, some European Union countries earlier rejected the vaccines. According to a publication by the Reality Check on BBC.com, “on the day the European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on 29 January for use for all age groups in the EU, French President Emmanuel Macron claimed that it was ‘quasi-ineffective’ for people over 65.”
He added that “the early results we have are not encouraging for 60 to 65-year-old people concerning AstraZeneca”.
Following Macron’s comments, France’s Health Authority made an official recommendation on February 2, that the vaccine should not be used for people over 65. It said more studies were needed before elderly people would be allowed to be vaccinated.
The report goes on to say that other European countries like Austria, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain and Poland have taken a similar position and have only recommended it for people under 65, while Italy and Belgium have recommended it for under 55s.
Switzerland – not an EU country – has ruled against approving the vaccine for any age group. The Swiss medical regulator said there was not enough data yet on safety, effectiveness and quality to do so.
What was the WHO’s reaction to the claims?
A report published on France24.com on February 10, 2021, indicate the World Health Organization has said the vaccine can be used on those 65 years and above. WHO vaccine experts have said the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine could be used for people over the age of 65, and also in settings where variants of the virus are circulating.
“Taking the totality of available evidence into account, WHO recommends the vaccine for use in persons aged 65 years and older,” The 15-member Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) said in fresh recommendations.
It also said the Covid-19 vaccine could also be used in places where “variants are present,” despite a recent study suggesting it was far less effective against a strain of the virus first detected in South Africa.
Germany makes U-turn
In a February 28, publication by the Financial Times, the German government’s health advisers have signaled they might allow older individuals to receive the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine as EU governments come under increasing pressure to clear the stockpile of unused doses.
It states that Thomas Mertens, head of the German vaccination commission, told German television channel ZDF that there would be “an updated recommendation” “very soon” that will “make adjustments to this point” — referring to the decision to recommend the jab’s use for the under-65s only.
Subsequently, on March 4, 2021, Germany’s independent Standing Committee on Vaccination (Stiko) said that the AstraZeneca vaccine can be administered to older people.
“This is good news for all the elderly people waiting for a vaccination. It means they can get vaccinated sooner,” said Health Minister Jens Spahn. “We will shortly issue a regulation implementing both recommendations.”
Are Ghanaians 65 and above safe for taking the vaccine?
Even though the Food and Drugs Authority has not published any report explicitly on its tests on the implications of the vaccine on peoples health, in his latest address on measures government is taking to avert the pandemic in Ghana, President Akufo-Addo on Sunday, February 28, 2021, asked Ghanaians to ignore the conspiracy theories surrounding the vaccines ahead of the launch of the nationwide inoculation campaign against the virus on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
He said the Ghana Food and Drugs Authority has verified the efficacy of the vaccine and urged the public to take the jab without having any repercussions on their health.
“Fellow Ghanaians, I know there are still some who continue to express doubts about the vaccine, others have expressed reservations about its efficacy, with some taking sides with conspiracy theorists who believe the vaccine has been created to wipe out the African race. This is far from the truth,” Akufo-Addo said.
Adding, “Taking the vaccine will not alter your DNA, it will not embed a tracking device in your body, neither will it cause infertility in women or men.”
With the facts provided in this report, Ghanaians 65 years and above can take the AstraZeneca vaccine without any implications as indicated by WHO.
This report is produced under the project: COVID-19 Response in Africa: Together for Reliable Information being implemented with funding support from the European Union.