WHO Approves Oxford-AstraZeneca Vaccine

The World Health Organisation (WHO) gave emergency use listing to two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out globally through the COVAX facility.

One of the vaccines is produced by SKBio in the Republic of Korea; the other is produced by the Serum Institute of India.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom explained on Monday that although both companies are producing the same vaccine, they required separate reviews and approvals because they are made in different production plants.

Up to now, the only vaccine to receive the WHO’s emergency use listing was the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

What does this mean for T&T?

The approval should now trigger the distribution of vaccine doses through the COVAX facility, of which T&T has already bought into through a US$1.9 million down-payment. The country is expected to receive between 100,000 to 120,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine within the coming weeks. These doses would be a part of the country’s first phase of vaccinations which would go to healthcare workers, the elderly and essential workers.

But while the country is awaiting the delivery of these doses, the approval could now see some 2,000 doses of the vaccine T&T received from Barbados last week be administered. During a press conference on Monday, Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram indicated that the Ministry of Health was awaiting the WHO’s approval before distributing this batch of vaccines to those healthcare workers directly involved with the COVID-19 fight.

“If we have these 2,000, they would be used for the very high-risk healthcare workers in the first instance. For example, those persons who are at Couva [and] Caura who are actually interacting with COVID-19 patients on a daily basis—[also] those at Arima, those at Augustus Long and persons who supervise quarantined individuals as well,” Dr Parasram said.

What Does SAGE Recommend for the Vaccine?

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) has issued interim recommendations for use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. It recommends that priority be given to health workers at high risk of exposure and older people. Despite concerns over its efficacy in the elderly from some European countries stemming from a scarcity of data, SAGE endorses its use in people over 65 years.

It also advises that it be administered to those with comorbidities that have been identified as increasing the risk of severe COVID-19, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and diabetes.

SAGE is not particularly keen on vaccinating pregnant women as there is very little data available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy. However, it notes that pregnant women may receive the vaccine if the benefit of vaccinating a pregnant woman outweighs the potential vaccine risks.

The Ministry of Health already has stated it would not be administering the vaccine to pregnant women, locally.

It is not advised to be administered to people with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine. It also is not advised to be administered to children under the age of 18, pending further studies.

Photo: Astra Zeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. (Image: REUTERS)