Geneva: The World Health Organization (WHO) and health experts are still stranded with the new Covid-19 variants that have proved to be resistant to the Covid-19 vaccines that have so far been rolled out to the world markets to help curb further spread of the deadly virus.
Just a day after South Africa announced it was putting on hold the rollout of a Covid-19 vaccine that has raised questions about reliability, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the emergence of new coronavirus variants has raised major questions on whether available vaccines will be effective.
Speaking during WHO’s latest press briefing from Geneva on Monday, February 8, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus noted that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is one of several that has been shown to be effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death from Covid-19.
“Yesterday (Sunday), South Africa announced it was putting a temporary hold on the roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a study showed it was minimally effective at preventing mild to moderate disease caused by a variant first identified in South Africa.” Dr Tedros said.
In the study, some 2,026 participants took part in the trial, according to Prof Salim Abdool Karim, co-chair of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
“This is clearly concerning news. However, there are some important caveats given the limited sample size of the trial and the younger, healthier profile of the participants, it is important to determine whether or not the vaccine remains effective in preventing more severe illness,” he added
Karim further added they are considering a proposal to roll out the vaccine among 100,000 people initially, and monitoring their hospitalization rates based on a threshold.
Several countries are succeeding in suppressing transmission, Tedros said, including those where new variants are circulating.
“We all have a role to play in protecting vaccines, every time you decide to stay at home, to avoid crowds, to wear a mask or to clean your hands, you are denying the virus the opportunity to spread, and the opportunity to change in ways that could make vaccines less effective,” Tedros noted
He added that it also seems increasingly clear that manufacturers will have to adjust to the evolution of the virus, taking into account the latest variants for future shots, including boosters.
“We know viruses mutate and we know we have to be ready to adapt vaccines so they remain effective, this is what happens with flu vaccines, which are updated twice a year to match the dominant strains,” he said
Tedros said they are now expanding that mechanism to provide guidance to manufacturers and countries on changes that may be needed for vaccines.
“These developments highlight why it’s so important to scale up manufacturing and roll-out of vaccines as quickly as possible and as widely as possible to protect people before they are exposed to new variants.”
On Tuesday, February 9, Tedros said he will meet with the chair of SAGE to discuss its recommendations.
“In the next few days, WHO expects to make a decision on the emergency use listing of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, for the two sites in India and the Republic of Korea which will produce it for COVAX.”