WHO Approves AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine For Emergency Use
The World Health Organization (WHO) approved two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 shots for emergency use Tuesday, providing much-needed relief to developing countries struggling to access these life-saving vaccines.
A major advantage of the approved vaccines would be its easy storage as it doesn't require ultra-low temperatures. They can be stored in a simple refrigerator and easily transported using iceboxes without hampering the vaccines' efficacy.
Both versions of the vaccine would be rolled out globally through COVAX – a global initiative led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO for equitable distribution of vaccines globally. AstraZeneca-SKBio, South Korea and the Serum Institute of India are manufacturing the approved vaccine.
"Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, contributing to the COVAX Facility's goal of equitable vaccine distribution," said Dr. Mariângela Simão, assistant-director general for Access to Medicines and Health Products at WHO announced on Tuesday.
"But we must keep up the pressure to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere and facilitate global access. To do that, we need two things – a scale-up of manufacturing capacity, and developers' early submission of their vaccines for WHO review."
The initiative needs $6.8 billion to secure two billion doses by the end of 2021, including 1 billion vaccine doses for 92 Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs). The inequality in accessing COVID-19 vaccines triggered after high-income countries representing 16 percent of the global population secured at least 70 percent of doses available in 2021 from five leading vaccine candidates.
High efficacy and easy storage of approved vaccines
Developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca, the vaccine is known as ChAdOx1-S. It uses a viral vector to trigger immunity against the SARS-CoV-2, which causes the COVID-19 infection.
The vaccine has an efficacy of 63.09 percent and has been tested in the UK, Brazil and South Africa, where participants were administered two doses at an interval of 4-12 weeks.
Simple and affordable vaccine storage could be one of the most significant advantages for LMICs having scant resources to maintain a cold chain. Unopened multidose vials should be stored in a refrigerator in the temperature range of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius and should not be frozen, according to the guidelines from vaccine manufacturers.
"Once a vial has been opened, it should be handled according to the WHO open vial policy and be discarded at the end of the immunization session or within six hours of opening, whichever comes first. Within this period, the product may be kept and used at temperatures up to 30 degrees Celsius," said the guideline.
The WHO also listed the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for emergency use in December. These vaccines require storage at a temperature below -70 degrees Celsius. A majority of LMICs do not have enough infrastructures in terms of refrigeration facilities and uninterrupted power supply to maintain a cold chain at such a low temperature.
In the case of the two AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccines, the quality, safety and efficacy data, risk management plans and programmatic suitability, such as cold chain requirements. The process took under four weeks, said a statement released by the WHO.