WHO recommends use of Oxford-AstraZeneca jab

AstraZeneca vaccine

A file photo taken on November 17, 2020 shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of British pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.


Photo credit: AFP

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended use of AstraZeneca vaccine for adults above 18 years.

According to the expert team of the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (Sage), the vaccine should be given in two doses, with an interval of eight to 12 weeks between the first and second doses. The jab should also be given to people older than 65 years, with the panel arguing that the Oxford-AstraZeneca doses' benefits outweigh the risks.

The decisions, released on Wednesday evening, are meant to be standard in all countries, including places such as South Africa and the UK where the circulation of new variants had raised some concerns over its efficacy. The panel said that findings from a recently released study conducted in South Africa showing that the vaccine was not as effective in protecting people against mild and moderate symptoms of Covid-19 do not negate the fact it is still effective.

Some countries, such as France and Sweden, have restricted use of the shot to younger adults, citing lack of sufficient trial data for the elderly. South Africa has also paused the use of the jab following its study results, instead opting for Pfizer/BoiNTech and Johnson and Johnson's vaccine.

"There is no reason not to recommend its use even in countries that have circulation of the variant," said Dr Alejandro Cravioto, the chairman of WHO's Sage.

The WHO officials stressed that not all countries had a choice of which vaccine to use. Some 128 million vaccine doses have been administered so far across the world with more than three-quarters of these rolled out in just 10 countries that account for 60 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

"As of today, almost 130 countries, with 2.5 billion people, are yet to administer a single dose," said the WHO/Unicef which is advocating inoculation of all health workers and populations at highest risk of severe disease in all countries in the first 100 days of 2021.

"Immune responses induced by the vaccine in older persons are well documented and similar to those in other age groups," the WHO recommendations said. "This suggests it is likely that the vaccine will be found to be efficacious in older persons."

Like Pfizer's, the AZ vaccine will not be given to pregnant and breastfeeding women unless they are at risk of contracting Covid-19, said Dr Cravioto.

"We do not have enough information to recommend the vaccine in this group but don't see no reason for it not to be used if the woman is at risk," he said.

The vaccine is also not to be used as a prerequisite for international travel for now, until such a time when the global supply chain is stable and there is information that it will help curb Covid-19, added Dr Cravioto.

Although authorisation by the WHO is not required by national governments to use the jab, it is needed for the WHO-led Covax vaccine programme to begin distribution of the shot to participating countries.

Many nations, especially low and middle-income countries, are banking on the jab, which is the cheapest of all available Covid-19 vaccines and one of the best suited to African health systems as it does not require storage at ultra-low temperatures like Pfizer's.

Serum Institute of India (SII) will provide 100 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine at $3 (Sh330) each, according to the draft document quotes by Reuters last month.


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