AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and should be deployed widely across all age groups, including in countries where the South African variant of the coronavirus may reduce its efficacy, a World Health Organization panel said on Wednesday.
In interim recommendations on the shot, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) panel said the vaccine should be given in two doses with an interval of 8 to 12 weeks, and should also be used in people aged 65 and older.
Even in countries such as South Africa, where questions have been raised about the AstraZeneca vaccine’s efficacy against a newly-emerged variant of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, “there is no reason not to recommend its use”, SAGE’s chair, Alejandro Cravioto, told a briefing.
“We have made a recommendation that even if there is a reduction in the possibility of this vaccine having a full impact in its protection capacity, especially against severe disease, there is no reason not to recommend its use even in countries that have circulation of the variant,” he said.
South Africa this week paused part of its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after data from a small trial showed it did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 variant of the coronavirus now dominant in the country.
The WHO said those preliminary findings “highlight the urgent need for a coordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of variants” and their impact on vaccine efficacy.
“The WHO will continue to monitor the situation (and) as new data become available, recommendations will be updated accordingly,” it said.
AstraZeneca‘s COVID vaccine is now in the final stages of review for a World Health Organization emergency-use listing and could receive approval by mid-February, the United Nations health agency further stated.
In a joint briefing with the WHO’s SAGE expert panel on immunisation, officials recommended the shot should be widely used, emphasising that its benefits outweigh any risks.
“We hope this will be followed very soon by the emergency-use listing of this product,” the WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told the briefing.
Asked why the WHO was pushing ahead with recommendations on using the vaccine even before much-anticipated data from a large U.S. clinical trial of the shot, Alejandro Cravioto, chair of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization, said the U.S. data was “not expected until into March”.
“We have thousands of people dying from the infection, in many countries of the world, daily,” he said.
“Anything we can do to use a product that might reduce that is totally justified, even if the information… is not (as) complete as we like.”
Reporting by John Miller, Stephanie Nebehay and Kate Kelland, with files from Global News
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