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The WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) has backed the use of the Astra Zeneca/Oxford University vaccine, including for those aged over 65. This is despite the fact that some countries in the EU have already said they would not be using the vaccine for this cohort.  

While vaccine supplies are limited, WHO has recommended that priority be given to health workers at high risk of exposure and older people, including those aged 65 or older.

Vaccination is recommended for persons with comorbidities that have been identified as increasing the risk of severe COVID-19, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and diabetes.

Vaccination can be offered to people who have had COVID-19 in the past. But individuals may wish to defer their own COVID-19 vaccination for up to six months from the time of SARS-CoV-2 infection, to allow others who may need the vaccine more urgently to go first.

Astra Zeneca is now conducting a large-scale clinical trial of the vaccine including those aged 65 plus.

WHO has also recommended that the dosage should be administered in two doses given intramuscularly (0.5ml each) with an interval of eight to twelve weeks. Longer dose intervals within the eight to twelve weeks range are associated with greater vaccine efficacy.

The AZD1222 vaccine against COVID-19 has an efficacy of 63.09% against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.

With regard to the new variants, SAGE has reviewed all available data on the performance of the vaccine in the settings of variants of concern and recommends the use of AZD1222 vaccine according to the WHO Prioritization Roadmap, even if virus variants are present in a country.

WHO’s recommendation of the AZ/Oxford University vaccine was welcomed by Andrew Pollard, Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, and Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial.

‘The new guidance from WHO is an important milestone in extending access to the Oxford-AZ vaccine to all corners of the world,’ he said, ‘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.’

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

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