A LEADING Irish scientist has condemned an incorrect report which claimed the AstraZeneca vaccine was just 8% effective on the elderly.
Trinity College immunologist Professor Luke O'Neill condemned the media reports as "irresponsible" and causing widespread panic when the world was relying on vaccines for a return to normality.
Earlier this week, German newspaper Handelsblatt reported that the Oxford vaccine AstraZeneca was just 8% effective in those over the age of 65, citing unnamed sources; Bild also quoted unnamed anonymous sources who said the efficacy rate was less than 10%.
The report was quickly denounced as 'completely incorrect' by AstraZeneca, but damage had already been done to the company's reputation due to an unexpected delay in delivering promised millions of doses to the European Union, and these reports have not helped.
Now, Dublin-based immunologist Professor Luke O'Neill has told The Irish Mirror that the claims of 8% effectiveness were "disgraceful" and "irresponsible".
"You can't make that claim in the middle of a pandemic, when everybody's frightened," he told the outlet.
The German government has said the false media reports are due to a 'mix-up' in reporting, where the 8% number referred to the number of elderly people involved in the clinical trials rather than the efficacy of the jab.
Professor O'Neill told the Mirror that the German media reports seemed "like throwaway remarks", and said "To make that statement without backing it up with data is a disgrace".
"It's just irresponsible to make that claim without backing it up with the data," he said, "because we're in a very fragile time, and we need this vaccine.
"We need as many vaccines as we can get."
The AstraZeneca vaccine will begin roll-out in Ireland in February should it be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), but production has already been hit by delays.
Ireland's Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, said this week that Ireland should receive a delivery of AstraZeneca in February "within the expected range for February, although at the lower end of that range".
However, he said, "delivery in March is likely to be more impacted and considerably lower than what was originally stated by the company".
"We continue to prioritise those most vulnerable to COVID-19 in our society against the backdrop of limited supply of vaccines."
Ireland has so far administered more than 143,000 vaccinations in the community, with priority given to the elderly and vulnerable, front-line staff and nursing home residents.