As WHO set to give green light
By Sola Ogundipe
The Global Vaccine Alliance, GAVI, a lead partner in the WHO-led COVAX initiative for COVID-19 vaccines has said the portfolio will continue rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine despite a study showing that it was less effective against a new fast-spreading variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in South Africa.
COVAX, the United Nations-led initiative to ensure the fair distribution of vaccines, aims to distribute 350 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine worldwide in the first six months of 2021. Nigeria has been allocated 16 million doses of the vaccine under the arrangement.
The Chief Executive of Gavi, Dr. Seth Berkley said the AstraZeneca vaccine is efficacious and has been reviewed and approved by a number of stringent regulatory authorities.
Berkley said that once the vaccine gains approval it was likely that it would be rolled out to developing countries.
“The vaccine has been reviewed by a number of stringent regulatory authorities and gotten approval and had studies in many countries. And therefore we suspect that we will continue to roll it out and we’ll continue to follow the effects of that vaccine over time,” he explained during an online press conference.
Already the World Health Organisation, WHO, looks set to approve the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for use in developing countries after its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation, SAGE, meets to decide whether to approve the vaccine for emergency use and give the green light for distribution to countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.
The Director of Immunisation, Vaccines, and Biologicals at WHO, Dr Kate O’Brien suggested it was likely that the vaccine would gain approval but said continued monitoring was essential.
“There was a very positive view about proceeding with the use of the vaccine, including in settings where variants are circulating, with a big emphasis on collecting information that would really help,” she said.
While the small South African study suggested the vaccine did not prevent mild and moderate disease in a group of mostly young people, it did not look at whether the vaccine prevents severe disease, hospitalisation and deaths.
The Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, Dr Mike Ryan, said: “This is the primary job of vaccines, and right now, the data on all of the vaccines in all of the situations is that they are working to do that. We may need second and third generations to do more. In emergency management, you’ve got to do what you can do now.”
Also in a remark, the Chief Scientist at WHO, Dr Soumya Swaminathan said the South African study did not show that the vaccine doesn’t work at all.
“What we’ve seen is data from a small study. It’s indicative. It is telling us we need to collect more data, we need to study it more,” she said.
South Africa, which ordered a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine said it would now administer the vaccine in a stepped manner – give out 100,000 doses and then monitor hospitalisation rates to determine whether the remaining doses should be given.
Leader of South Africa’s Covid response, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, said: “We don’t want to end up with a situation where we vaccinate a million people or two million people with a vaccine that may not be effective at preventing hospitalisation and severe disease.”