WHO Backs Oxford Vaccine for All Above 18, Despite Variants

It has approved the use of the vaccine for all above the age of 18 at a dosing regimen of 8 to 12 week interval.

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WHO advisory group gives a thumbs up to Oxford vaccine for all above age of 18.
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The World Health Organisation's Advisory Group (SAGE) has said Oxford AstraZeneca is safe and effective after a review. Importantly, it has approved the use of the vaccine for all above the age of 18 at a dosing regimen of 8 to 12 week interval. Currently in India, the vaccine named as Covishield and manufactured by Serum Institute is administered at a 4 week interval.

It has deemed the vaccine safe for those above 65, and recommended its use even in areas where various coronavirus variants are present.

South Africa stalled the use of the vaccine after a small study indicated it is not effective against the South Africa variant of the virus. But “there is no reason not to recommend its use”, Alejandro Cravioto, chair of the expert group, told a briefing.

The interim recommendation says the vaccine's overall efficacy is 63 per cent.

Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, and Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said in a quote on Oxford website, "The new guidance from WHO is an important milestone in extending access to the Oxford-AZ vaccine to all corners of the world and providing further endorsement that after rigorous scrutiny by the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts the vaccine can be used to help protect populations from the coronavirus pandemic."

Interestingly, Germany and France had not cleared the vaccine use in those above 65, saying the testing in this group was limited. The WHO said other studies showed nearly identical immune response in young and older adults.

Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology, and Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, was quoted as saying, "It is excellent news that the WHO has recommended use of the SARS CoV-2 vaccine first produced in Oxford. This decision paves the way to more widespread use of the vaccine to protect people against COVID-19 and gain control of the pandemic."

Ease of Distribution, Wide Availability

The vaccine has been made available at not-for-profit during the pandemic, and the WHO-COVAX facility, which will be distributing vaccines to the developing and under developed countries, is relying heavily on the Oxford AstraZeneca jab.

The vaccine is easy to manufacture, transport and store at a regular fridge temperature of 2-8 degrees Celsius. This makes it easy to be deployed in existing vaccine distribution set ups.

In India, Serum Institute is manufacturing the vaccine and will be providing a large chunk to the COVAX facility and directly to developing countries.

Vaccine Interval: Will India Relook its Dosing Schedule?

Currently in India, the dosing interval approved for the vaccine is four weeks. In the UK, the regimen is 8 to 12 weeks based on immunogenicity data that indicated that this regimen may help improve the vaccine's efficacy. The WHO has recommended the same in its review.

It will be interesting to see if India reviews its dosing regimen following the WHO advise.

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