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WHO backs AstraZeneca vaccine even if efficacy against S Africa variant low

Dr Alejandro Cravioto, Chair, WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunisation, said on Wednesday that even if there is not much evidence of the vaccine having efficacy against severe disease in the South African trial, there was no reason not to recommend its use — even in countries where the new variant is circulating.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune |
Updated: February 11, 2021 8:44:33 am
AstraZeneca vaccine, Covid vaccine efficacy, WHO, S Africa Covid variant, AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, Express Explained, Indian express newsA dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine is prepared in Britain. (Photo: Reuters)

At a time when South Africa has paused the rollout of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for Covid-19 after a small trial found it less effective against the new SARS-CoV-2 variant circulating there, the World Health Organization has said there is no reason not to recommend it.

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Dr Alejandro Cravioto, Chair, WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on immunisation, said on Wednesday that even if there is not much evidence of the vaccine having efficacy against severe disease in the South African trial, there was no reason not to recommend its use — even in countries where the new variant is circulating.

SAGE presented its interim recommendations on the use of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, AZD1222, 19 at a virtual media conference on Wednesday. WHO experts had come together to review the efficacy of the vaccine. They reviewed all the evidence, including the study that showed that it was less effective against the variant discovered in South Africa.

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“We had a long review of the evidence and spoke with experts and people involved with trials and come out with recommendations,” he said. The recommendation is for two doses of half a millilitre each with an interval of four and 12 weeks between the first and second doses.

People above age 65 should get vaccinated, the WHO has recommended. In case of pregnant women, if the woman is at risk and belongs to a high-risk group and has co-morbidities, “we see no reason why she should not be vaccinated under guidance of a doctor, and that holds true for breastfeeding women”, Dr Alejandro said.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has demonstrated efficacy and safety and is an important vaccine of the world, said Dr Kate O’Brien, Director, WHO Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals.

The vaccine has been shown to have an efficacy of 63.09% against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2, as shown by the primary analysis of trial data from the UK, Brazil and South Africa (two standard doses per participant). “This, together with the finding of higher antibody levels with increasing interdose interval, supports the conclusion that longer dose intervals within the 4–12 weeks range are associated with greater vaccine efficacy,” the SAGE recommendations said.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at WHO, presented the recommendations from SAGE. “SAGE has made recommendations of Pfizer and Moderna and today is an important day as recommendations are being made for use of Oxford-AstraZeneca,” Dr Swaminathan said.

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