‘Emergence of new variants raise concerns over vaccine efficacy’

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World Health Organization (WHO) experts came together to review the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, after a study showed that it was less effective against a new variant of the virus discovered in South Africa.

At a press briefing here on Monday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said although the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is one of the several that have been shown to be effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths from Covid-19, the emergence of new variants of the virus has raised concerns about their potential impacts on the efficacy of vaccines, reports Xinhua news agency.

He announced that the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) met to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and discuss these new developments.

Tedros added that he will meet with the SAGE Chair on Tuesday to discuss its recommendations.

Monday’s development came a day after, South Africa, where the new variant named B.1.351 was found, announced that the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the country would be temporarily put on hold until more clinical efficacy information becomes available.

Frontline workers have been vaccinated

Also at the briefing, Kate O’Brien, director of the Department for Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals at the WHO, said SAGE had met investigators from the trials being conducted in Britain and Brazil, as well as AstraZeneca and investigators from South African trials.

In looking at evidence on the AstraZeneca vaccine across a number of trials, it is very clear that it has efficacy against severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths among different variants, said O’Brien, while admitting that “there are some indications of reduction in the efficacy, some more some less, depending on which variant, which population, and also the neutralizing antibody responses”.

“But we also have evidence that there is the likelihood that the retention of meaningful impact against severe disease is a very plausible scenario for the product against the B.1.351 variant,” she added.

O’Brien also noted that “we really have to sort of sail a steady ship, based on the preponderance of evidence and not lurch from one particular report or another report”.

AstraZeneca

Meanwhile, GAVI, the global Vaccine Alliance and a major player in the WHO-led COVAX initiative for Covid-19 vaccines, has decided to continue rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine.

According to GAVI CEO Seth Berkley, the AstraZeneca vaccine is efficacious and has been reviewed and approved by a number of stringent regulatory authorities.

“Therefore we suspect that we will continue to roll that out, and we’ll continue to follow the effects of that vaccine over time,” he said.

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