A World Health Organization (WHO) panel has recommended AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine for use globally by all adults over 18, including the elderly, paving the way to speed up inoculations in developing countries.
In what appears as a boost for the vaccine after a series of setbacks, it could also be used in places such as South Africa where the spread of new variants had raised some concerns over its efficacy.
According to a report from Bloomberg, the Chairman of WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, Alejandro Cravioto, said the recommendation might encourage more countries to use the vaccine broadly after some European Union members advised against giving it to the elderly because of insufficient trial data.
He pointed out that the effect of the vaccine on older people was expected to be the same as for younger recipients.
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This pronouncement is seen as good news for developing countries, many of which are waiting to administer their first shots as wealthier countries have already inoculated millions of residents.
The WHO also recommended extending the time between the first and second dose to improve efficacy, emphasizing a strategy already being employed in the UK. The panel said that the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is more effective when the second dose is administered later and therefore recommended 8 to 12 weeks between the doses.
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The U.K. has adopted a similar dosing interval, which is wider than the recommended gap for some other two-shot vaccines.
What the Chairman of WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization is saying
During his briefing, Cravioto said, “We made the recommendation that even if there is a reduction in the possibility of this vaccine having a full impact in its protection capacity, there’s no reason not to recommend its use, even in countries that have the circulation of variants.”
Some sources familiar with the case said the WHO is likely to follow the recommendation by issuing an emergency use authorization for the vaccine as early as next Monday.
What you should know
AstraZeneca vaccine, which was developed by AstraZeneca Plc in collaboration with the University of Oxford, has pledged significant supplies to Covax, a facility that aims to distribute vaccines equitably around the world.
Covax had said last month that it was on track to deliver at least 2 billion doses, about two-thirds of which will go to lower-income economies and to vaccinate at least a fifth of each participating country’s population by the end of the year.
It can be recalled that South Africa, where one of the new variants was first discovered, some days ago suspended a rollout of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, after a trial showed it had limited efficacy against mild infections with the strain.
The WHO and UNICEF had said that a total of about 130 countries, representing almost 2.5 billion people, had not yet administered a single dose of any Covid-19 vaccine.