Use AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot even in countries with South African variant - WHO panel

Stephanie Nebehay, Kate Kelland and John Miller
·1-min read
Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" and sryinge are seen in front of displayed AstraZeneca logo in this illustration

By Stephanie Nebehay, Kate Kelland and John Miller

GENEVA (Reuters) - AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine is safe and effective and should be deployed widely, including in countries where the South African variant of the coronavirus 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 Immunisation (SAGE) panel said the vaccine should be given in two doses with an interval of 8 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.

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 501Y.V2 variant of the coronavirus now dominant in the country.

The WHO said those preliminary findings "highlight the urgent need for a coordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of variants" and their impact on vaccine efficacy.

"The WHO will continue to monitor the situation (and) as new data become available, recommendations will be updated accordingly," it said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and John Miller in GENEVA, and Kate Kelland in LONDON; Editing by Jon Boyle)