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World Health Organization (WHO) backs Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine even against variants 

Posted: Wednesday, February 10, 2021. 5:53 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The World Health Organization (WHO) today, according to the BBC, recommended the use of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine even in countries tackling new variants of the coronavirus, as well as in persons aged over 65. 


The supranational health body recommends spacing out the two doses to make the vaccine more effective. 


The Oxford vaccine is seen as the “vaccine for the world” as it is cheap, can be mass produced and is stored in a standard refrigerator. It is considered the base vaccine for use in the COVAX facility pioneered by the WHO in more than 30 countries in the Americas, including Belize. 


 However, it has attracted controversy about its effectiveness against new variants, whether it should be used in the elderly and how far apart the doses should be given, due to a lack of data. 


The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization, known as Sage, has been scrutinising evidence from vaccine trials. Its interim recommendations say the vaccine is 63% effective overall. However, early data from trials in South Africa showed the vaccine was offering “minimal protection” against mild and moderate disease in young people. 


The WHO’s director of immunisation, Dr Katherine O’Brien, said the South African study was “inconclusive” and it was “plausible” the vaccine would still prevent severe disease. 


A variant in the country has acquired mutations that seem to help it evade immunity from vaccines and from previous infections. 


However, Oxford scientists still expect their vaccine to prevent people from becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 and needing hospital treatment. “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. 


There has been criticism about a lack of data on the effectiveness of the vaccine in the elderly with some countries, including France and Germany, advising against using it in the over 65s. 


The WHO said even though there was a small number of over 65s in the trials, other studies showed older people had a nearly identical immune response to younger adults so the vaccine should be used. 


The scientific advisers also said giving the two doses eight-12 weeks apart increased the vaccine‘s effectiveness. 


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