GENEVA | Several officials from the WHO and the Covax system warned Monday against being too pessimistic about AstraZeneca’s COVID vaccine, because it is above all about limiting hospitalizations and saving lives.
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“It is much too early to reject this vaccine”, which is “an important part of the global response to the current pandemic”, hammered Richard Hatchett, who heads the CEPI, the research arm of the Covax mechanism, set up by the World Health Organization, the Gavi vaccine agency and CEPI, to try to ensure equitable distribution of the means to fight COVID-19.
“It is absolutely crucial to use the tools we have as efficiently as possible,” he insisted during the bi-weekly WHO press conference in Geneva.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine has had some setbacks in recent weeks, its effectiveness having been questioned for people over the age of 65.
In addition, on Sunday, South Africa raised the possibility of a “limited” effectiveness of this product against the South African variant, considered more contagious and largely responsible for the second wave in this country.
Michael Ryan, the director of health emergency issues at the World Health Organization, echoed this.
“The primary task of vaccines today is to reduce the number of hospitalizations and deaths. And it seems to me that right now the data shows us that this is what all vaccines do, ”he said.
“We may need a second and third generation of vaccines to do more,” he said, but drawing on his experience in fighting some of the deadliest diseases, he stressed that “ crisis management is about doing what you can right away ”.
The AstraZeneca vaccine, which has not yet had WHO approval, but has been given the green light by health authorities in many countries including the European Union, represents the vast majority doses of vaccines that the Covax system essentially wants to distribute in underprivileged countries to protect as a priority the nursing staff and the most vulnerable people during the first semester.
The WHO Expert Committee on Vaccines (SAGE) worked on the AstraZeneca dossier on Monday, but its conclusions should not be known for several days. WHO approval, essential for Covax to start distributing the AstraZeneca vaccine, could then take place around mid-February.
“We will see how SAGE will formulate its recommendation on the use of the vaccine, but there was a very positive view on using the vaccine including in places where variants are circulating,” said for his part. Kate O’Brien, Director of the WHO Immunization and Vaccines Department.
The important thing, she stressed, is to collect data while distributing it to “make more efficient use in different countries and places around the world”.
“For the moment at least, it seems that the AZ vaccine (AstraZeneca) is an effective vaccine, which has been reviewed by serious regulatory authorities and approved,” said Seth Berkley, the boss of the alliance for Gavi vaccines.