A member of the medical staff holds a vial of the AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at the South Ile-de-France Hospital Group (Groupe Hospitalier Sud Ile-de-France), in Melun, on the outskirts of Paris, on February 8, 2021. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

Science and technology

The World Health Organization's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) said on Wednesday that the benefits of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the potential risks.

"The data reviewed by WHO support the conclusion that the known and potential benefits of AZD1222 outweigh the known and potential risk," SAGE said in a set of interim recommendations.

Citing trial data taken from studies in the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Brazil that saw participants receive two standard doses, SAGE said that the AstraZeneca vaccine showed 63.09 percent efficacy.

SAGE also recommends that the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine be given at an interval of eight to 12 weeks between shots, and the experts appeared that the vaccine appears to be safe for individuals aged 65 and above.

"Immune responses induced by the vaccine in older persons are well documented and similar to those in other age groups. This suggests it is likely that the vaccine will be found to be efficacious in older persons. The trial data indicate that the vaccine is safe for this age group," the expert group said.

Additionally, SAGE noted recent studies that have suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine is less effective against new COVID-19 strains but still recommended the vaccine for use in countries, such as South Africa, where new strains are spreading.

"In view of this, WHO currently recommends the use of AZD1222 vaccine ... even if variants are present in a country," SAGE said.

During a press conference that followed the publication of SAGE's interim recommendations, Kate O'Brien, director of the WHO's Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals, said that it was worth inoculating older adults with the AstraZeneca vaccine, even if the efficacy could fall to as low as 10 percent, as was suggested by German newspapers in late January.

"Modeling data revealed that even when a hypothetical efficacy drops down to as low as 10 percent efficacy, it's still the right thing to do to immunize older adults with a low efficacy vaccine because of the high risk of severe disease and mortality in that age group," O'Brien said.

The WHO has earmarked the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in the COVAX Facility, the global COVID-19 vaccine distribution initiative and the organization's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan expressed hope that the vaccine would receive emergency-use listing "very soon."

One week ago, the COVAX Facility said that it intends to distribute almost 350 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, 240 million of which are expected to be produced by the Serum Institute of India, in the first half of 2021.
Source: ANI / Sputnik