WHO endorses use of AstraZeneca vaccine to persons over 65

“It’s the right thing to do” WHO okays use of AstraZeneca vaccine to persons over 65

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization backed the use of Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine. According to the global body, the drug can be administered to people aged over 65, including in situations where the variant is prevalent. The decision was shared through the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization. The panel however recommended an extension of the dose time from 8 to 12 weeks. Given the limited supply nature of the vaccines, the WHO is prioritizing health workers and high-risk groups, 65 years and older. 

Also read: UK conducts trials on ‘mixing’ covid-19 vaccines

The 15-member panel gave the direction in spite of growing alarm over the effectiveness of AstraZeneca against the variant of the virus in South Africa. Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, who chairs SAGE, explained that he saw no reason for halting the use of the vaccine in countries where the South African variant is present. He further pointed out the vaccines’ ability to “reduce the levels of severe disease” terming it further as “the right thing to do.”

AstraZeneca has suffered a significant credibility blow after a South African study found its efficacy wanting when delivered to older people. The findings prompted South Africa’s Health Minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize to review the country’s vaccination rollout, pausing further administration of the vaccine. 

Also read: AstraZeneca vaccine rollout halted over low effectiveness toward South African variant

At a press conference in Geneva, Dr. Joachim Hombach, the Executive Secretary of SAGE, described the study as “relatively modest” while the WHO’s heald of immunization Dr. Kate O’Brien described the South Africa study as “inconclusive.” She further pointed out that the study did not offer evidence to disprove the efficacy of the vaccine in preventing severe disease, hospitalizations, or death - which are the key areas of interest in the fight against the virus. 

No age limit

Dr. Cravioto said that the vaccine should be administered in two doses to people aged over 18. The perfect interval between the two doses is 8 to 12 weeks to ensure a guaranteed immune response. Despite the vaccine being safe, the SAGE chair pointed out that due to lack of available data is was not yet possible to recommend its issuing on women that are breastfeeding or expectant. 

The time question

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s Chief  Scientist urged countries to carry on with the AstraZeneca vaccine, especially where it is the only vaccine option available, as there is no time to lose. She also called for greater monitoring of Covid-19’s transmission through the Africa Pathogen Genomics Initiative as proper sequencing data can detect this variant without knowing the actual spread. To date, there are over 106 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 and over 2.3 million deaths based on official figures from the WHO. 

Call for solidarity

The head of the WHO Dr. Tedros and UNICEF made a call for solidarity in global vaccination efforts. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Henrietta Fore asked leaders to look beyond their borders and employ vaccine strategies that can end the pandemic and limit the spread of the variants. They pointed out how three-quarters of the 128 million vaccine doses administered worldwide, were centered in the top 10 wealthiest countries terming it as a “self-defeating strategy.”