Use AstraZeneca's Covid-19 shot even in countries with S.African variant - WHO panel

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An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of AstraZeneca.
An illustration picture shows vials with Covid-19 vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of AstraZeneca.
Justin Tallis/AFP

AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective and should be deployed widely, including in countries where the South African variant of the coronavirus may reduce its efficacy, a World Health Organisation 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.


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