COVID19: WHO backs AstraZeneca for older people

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The World Health Organisation has given the go-ahead for AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to be used for all ages, ending a discussion on whether it should be given to those aged over 65 or not.

WHO’s decision also vindicates Cyprus’ health authorities decided to use AstraZeneca on the elderly, offering them protection from the virus.

The body’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) panel said the vaccine should be given in two doses with an interval of 8 to 12 weeks and should also be used in people aged 65 and older.

According to WHO, AstraZeneca’s vaccine is safe and effective and should be deployed widely, including in countries where the South African variant of coronavirus may reduce its efficacy.

“We have made a recommendation that even if there is a reduction in the possibility of this vaccine having a full impact in its protection capacity, especially against severe disease, there is no reason not to recommend its use even in countries that have circulation of the variant,” SAGE’s chair, Alejandro Cravioto, told a briefing.

South Africa this week paused part of its AstraZeneca vaccine rollout after data from a small trial showed it did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 variant of coronavirus now dominant in the country.

Cyprus, unlike several EU counterparts such as France, Italy, and Germany, is using the AstraZeneca vaccine on the general population including those aged 65 and above.

The decision was taken upon the advice of the Advisory Scientific Committee on COVID-19 which suggested administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to all age groups.

That decision was contested by the Cyprus Medical Association (Cyma).

On Wednesday, Cyma challenged government policy on giving the Oxford jab to older people with the Health Ministry defending the move.

Health Ministry spokesperson Margarita Kyriacou said authorities had opted to administrate the AstraZeneca vaccine to all age groups, on the advice of the European Medicine Agency.

“The EMA is seen as the only relevant Authority in the European Union capable of evaluating the scientific data of pharmaceutical products.”

The first batch of vaccines from AstraZeneca arrived earlier this week, allowing the Health Ministry to vaccinate over 75-year-olds and health workers by the end of the month.

Upon the recommendation of its COVID-19 committee, the ministry will administer the second dose of the vaccine in the twelfth week as it is proven to be effective then.