WHO backs AstraZeneca Covid vaccine for over-65s, even against variants

The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is already in use worldwide.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is already in use worldwide. MICHAEL DANTAS AFP

The World Health Organization has broadly approved AstraZeneca's controversial coronavirus shot, saying the treatment is "likely...to be efficacious", even for those over 65 years of age, and in places were new coronavirus variants are circulating.  


"It is likely that the vaccine will be found to be efficacious in older persons. The trial data indicate that the vaccine is safe for this age group," according to WHO expert Alejandro Cravioti.

He said the WHO was awaiting more specific data on the vaccine's efficacy in over-65s, but that it "would not be appropriate" to wait with "thousands of people dying".

AstraZeneca was at the centre of a diplomatic spat between the EU and Britain earlier this year over supply problems, and also faced a setback when a number of European nations did not authorise the company's coronavirus shot for over-65s -- the age group most vulnerable to Covid-19.

The AstraZeneca shot accounts for the majority of doses being rolled out around the world -- especially in poorer countries -- under the Covax programme, and is considered crucial to the fight against the pandemic which has claimed more than 2.3 million lives.

WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the benefits of using the AstraZeneca shot would "far outweigh" any risks, even in nations with new variants.

Restrictions remain in place across EU

The European Union is also trying to accelerate its vaccination programme, with some member states still tightening economically punishing restrictions in an effort to stop the spread of the virus.

In France, the various statistical indicators for the epidemic are currently stable: 135,190 people tested positive in the week ending on Saturday, compared to 140,455 for the previous seven days.

The French infection rate, that is, the number of positive cases compared to the number of tests, is now 6.3 percent, down from 7.1 percent in January.

Germany has extended its strict curbs until 7 March, while Greece on Thursday began a tightened lockdown in and around the capital, Athens.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning