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WHO panel gives thumbs-up to Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

Published: (Updated: ) in European News by .

The panel also backed using the vaccine in places where coronavirus variants are circulating.

Scientists advising the World Health Organization issued Wednesday an interim recommendation for the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus jab for all adults, regardless of age, while endorsing it as protection against variant viruses.

Alejandro Cravioto, chair of the the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), told journalists that current evidence suggests the vaccine can be used in all adults, including those over 65 years — addressing one of the controversies that has surrounded the shot.

He acknowledged the issue of insufficient evidence on the elderly, but added he didn’t find that a reason to think that vaccine efficacy would be lower in that population.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper than alternatives, and it doesn’t require the cold storage necessary for the mRNA-based shots, both important factors for developing countries. However, there have been questions about its efficacy against new coronavirus variants as well as in older age groups.

His colleague Joachim Hombach, SAGE executive secretary, said that data suggests that “the immune response in people above 65 is almost the same as in younger people.” Therefore, SAGE is “very confident that this is a vaccine that is actually protective” for over-65s, he said.

The panel also backed using the vaccine in places where coronavirus variants are circulating. The recommendation came despite reports that the Oxford/AstraZeneca shot isn’t as protective against the variant identified in South Africa.

Katherine O’Brien, director of the department of immunization for the WHO, said that while evidence showed the vaccine not being as protective for moderate illness caused by the variant, “there is a plausible expectation that the vaccine will have impact against severe disease.”

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The vaccine has yet to receive an emergency use listing from the WHO. This is expected later this month and will help kick-start its distribution through COVAX, the global facility for vaccines.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email for a complimentary trial. 


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