AstraZeneca’s vaccine is recommended for use, including in countries with new strains of COVID-19, despite a lack of data on the drug’s impact against severe cases, Alejandro Cravioto, head of the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), told a press conference in Geneva.
“We have made recommendations that even if there is a reduction in the full capacity of this vaccine, especially against severe cases, there is no reason not to recommend the use of the vaccine, even in countries that have this variant of the (South African) virus,” he said.
According to him, the expert group studied the possibilities of the vaccine, in particular against the strain circulating in South Africa and the strain that has been identified in the UK.
Against the British variant, the vaccine has shown to be highly effective, but in studies of the strain from South Africa, “preliminary analysis has shown that there is a reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine against mild to moderate cases, as well as a reduction in antibody production.”
Kravioto noted that the small number of tests makes it impossible to say how effective the vaccine is against severe disease with the South African strain. However, “there is indirect evidence” that the drug is still effective against the virus.
For her part, World Health Organization chief scientist Sumia Swaminathan said the current recommendations are critical because AstraZeneca is the primary vaccine for the COVAX program.
“This is an important milestone that we expect will continue with the recommendation of a vaccine for emergency use,” she said.