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Montevideo, January 22nd 2022 - 23:39 UTC

 

 

Health officials support the AstraZeneca vaccine: “don't panic” says WHO

Tuesday, February 9th 2021 - 08:43 UTC
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The overall message from the World Health Organization and others was: don't panic. The overall message from the World Health Organization and others was: don't panic.

Health officials around the world and from WHO, gave their backing to the AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19, after a study showing it had little effect on the variant now spreading quickly in South Africa rang a global alarm.

The prospect that new virus variants could evolve the ability to elude vaccines is one of the main risks hanging over the global strategy to emerge from the pandemic by rolling out vaccines this year.

South Africa, where a new variant now accounts for the vast bulk of cases, initially announced a pause in its rollout of a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. But it said on Monday it could still roll it out in a “stepped manner”, giving out 100,000 doses and monitoring it to see if it prevents hospitalizations and deaths.

“It is vastly too early to be dismissing this vaccine,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, a foundation that co-leads the global Covax program to provide vaccine doses in poor countries.

More than 330 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine form the overwhelming majority of doses that Covax aims to begin rolling out in a first phase in poor countries beginning as soon as this month.

“Obviously the world is full of the wild type virus that this AstraZeneca vaccine is known to work against,” Hatchett said.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, co-chair of South Africa's Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19, said it was too early to conclude that the AstraZeneca would not prevent serious disease caused by the variant prevalent there.

If the vaccine does not work well against new evolving variants of the virus, it could be an ominous sign for other vaccines as well, showing that the virus can potentially thwart the efforts of scientists to fight it.

The overall message from the World Health Organization and others was: don't panic. Several global health officials noted that the South African study was small and had tested the vaccine using a short four-week interval between the first and second doses, despite evidence having since emerged that it works better if there is a longer wait.

It was becoming “more and more clear, the longer the interval between the two doses the higher the efficacy,” said Kate O'Brien, head of immunizations at the WHO.

Western governments spoke out in favor of the vaccine, which many have given approval. The vaccine is the main pillar of the vaccination program in Britain, which has so far been the fastest of any large country to vaccinate members of the public. It is dealing mainly with another fast-spreading variant which the vaccine has been shown to work well against.

“We think that both the vaccines that we're currently using are effective in, as I say, in stopping serious disease and death,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters. Britain is also using Pfizer's vaccine.

South Africa, where a new variant now accounts for a bulk of cases, initially announced a pause in its rollout of a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine

“It is vastly too early to be dismissing this vaccine,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations

More than 330 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine form the overwhelming majority of doses that Covax aims to begin rolling out in poor countries.

“Obviously the world is full of the wild type virus that this AstraZeneca vaccine is known to work against,” Hatchett said.

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