WHO panel recommends AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use

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A World Health Organization (WHO) panel on Wednesday recommended the AstraZeneca and Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for those 18 and older.

The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) issued its second approval for a COVID-19 vaccine to AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is expected to broaden the reach of the inoculation effort as the shot does not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures like some other vaccines.

WHO’s panel recommends the second AstraZeneca dose be administered between eight to 12 weeks after the first dose, Alejandro Cravioto, the SAGE chairman, said during the WHO press briefing.

SAGE included those older than 65 in its emergency recommendation for the AstraZeneca vaccine, although it noted this was based on less data due to a smaller participation group, and “more precise efficacy estimates” were “expected soon,” according to a drafted paper released by the group.

WHO previously issued its first emergency recommendation for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the end of December. The panel has not yet approved the Moderna vaccine, which is currently being administered in the U.S. along with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

Concerns have surfaced in recent weeks about whether the vaccines coming out will be effective against the more contagious strains of COVID-19 that were first identified in the U.K. and South Africa.

On Sunday, South Africa announced it would stop administering the AstraZeneca vaccine after initial research determined it gave less protection against the variant that is most prominent in the country.

But WHO said it was suggesting the AstraZeneca vaccine still be used in countries combating the variants.

“Even if there is a reduction in the possibility of these vaccines 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 the circulation of the variants,” Cravioto said.

South Africa’s announcement to cease the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout came a day after Oxford University vaccine researcher Sarah Gilbert said a modified version of the vaccine designed to fight the South African variant is expected to become available in the fall.

The U.S. has not yet approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, as the Food and Drug Administration is waiting for the results of a large clinical trial.

AstraZeneca has also vowed to distribute vaccines through Covax, which works for more equitable distribution to poorer countries.

Tags AstraZeneca AstraZeneca vaccine Coronavirus coronavirus vaccine coronavirus variants COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccine Pandemic South Africa coronavirus strain Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization Vaccine vaccine recommendations WHO WHO recommendations World Health Organization

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