WHO expert group recommends use of AstraZeneca vaccine

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GENEVA (AP) – Independent experts advising the World Health Organization on Wednesday recommended the use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine even in countries that turned up worrying coronavirus variants in their populations.

There had been doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness against a variant that emerged in South Africa.

The advice is used by health care officials worldwide, but doesn’t amount to a WHO green light for the U.N. and its partners to ship the vaccine. That approval could come after separate WHO group meetings on Friday and Monday to assess whether an emergency-use listing for the AstraZeneca vaccine is warranted.

Wednesday’s recommendations largely mirror those issued earlier by the European Medicines Agency and U.K. regulator MHRA.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is important because the U.N.-backed COVAX Facility, which aims to deploy coronavirus vaccines to people in need around the world whether in rich or poor countries, hopes to start shipping hundreds of millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine starting later this month.

Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO’s chief scientist, called the findings from the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts an “important milestone.”

She noted that the vaccine requires storage at refrigerator temperatures – not the far colder temperatures required of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that the group has already recommended for use. So far, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the only one to receive a WHO emergency use listing.

The expert group noted that “preliminary analyses” showed the AstraZeneca vaccine had reduced effectiveness against coronavirus variants that have emerged in Britain and South Africa.

SAGE also said international travelers shouldn’t get preference for vaccine doses, saying that would “counter the principle of equity” as well as a lack of evidence about whether vaccinations reduces the risk of transmission.

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