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Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot OK to use despite variant questions, WHO panel says

The Oxford-AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and should be deployed widely, including in countries where the variant of the coronavirus first identified in South Africa may reduce its efficacy, a World Health Organization panel said on Wednesday.

In interim recommendations on the shot, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) panel said the vaccine should be given in two doses with an interval of eight 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.

Health Canada is considering authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is cheaper and easier to store than the two mRNA vaccines already approved for use in this country.

Health Canada “is currently completing its review of the submitted data and expects to make a decision on the authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the coming days,” a spokesperson said in an email on Tuesday. “While the Department collaborates with other regulators, it remains committed to conducting an independent and thorough scientific review of all COVID-19 vaccines.”

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 variant of the coronavirus now dominant in the country.

The WHO said those preliminary findings “highlight the urgent need for a co-ordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of variants” and their impact on vaccine efficacy.

“The WHO will continue to monitor the situation,” it said. “As new data become available, recommendations will be updated accordingly.”


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