BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's government and health chiefs on Friday urged the public to take AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine, seeking to stem a tide of scepticism about its effectiveness and safety that has left most of the country's supply unused.
Health authorities in some European countries - including Germany - are facing resistance to the vaccine after side-effects including fever and muscle pain led some front-line workers to call in sick, putting extra strain on already-stretched health services.
Germany also recommended that the AstraZeneca vaccine be given only to people aged 18 to 64, which critics said was counterproductive to efforts to contain the pandemic. EU regulators have declared it safe for all.
"We strongly recommend it: this vaccine is safe and effective," Health Minister Jens Spahn told a news conference.
"...It protects oneself and others, like both other vaccines," he added, referring to the two other vaccines approved for use by the European Union, from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna.
The health ministry said this week it had administered only 15% of the shots it has available, confirming concerns that Germans were being selective, slowing vaccination efforts.
Lothar Wieler, the head of Germany's Robert Koch Institute for Infectious Diseases, said data from Britain and Israel, where there had already been extensive vaccination with AstraZeneca's drug showed that the product was "very, very effective".
A study of 500,000 vaccinations in Scotland found that the vaccine reduced hospitalisations by 94%, which was "fantastic", and rejecting it would not be "technically, objectively justified", he said.
AstraZeneca's lacklustre reception prompted Spahn at the weekend to offer to vaccinate primary school teachers and nursery workers sooner than originally planned.
On the streets of Berlin on Friday, several Germans said they would take it.
"The reports I heard and read about it were definitely positive, not just negative," said Kerstin Schlebthorst. "Yesterday I actually heard one saying it works differently but it is just as safe. I think this has been approached very hysterically."
Wieler also warned the public to be vigilant in upholding social distancing since there was a risk otherwise of undoing progress and triggering a third wave of the epidemic.
"We will eliminate the severity of the disease through vaccination and immunity and protect ourselves from it, but we will not be able to eradicate it," he said.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt and Paul Carrel; Editing by Maria Sheahan and John Stonestreet)