By G9ija

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has backed using the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, even in countries tackling new variants of coronavirus.

Some new forms of the virus appear to make vaccines less effective.

South Africa put its roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on hold after a study showed “disappointing” results against its new COVID-19 variant.

Scientists said the strain accounts for 90 per cent of new COVID-19 cases in South Africa.

The study, involving around 2000 people, found the vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild and moderate cases of Covid-19.

South Africa has received 1m doses of the AstraZeneca jab and was due to start vaccinating people son before it stopped the exercise.

But, WHO also said the vaccine can be used in people aged over 65, which some countries have advised against.

Spacing out the two doses, as is happening in the UK, makes the vaccine more effective, it advises.

The Oxford vaccine is seen as the “vaccine for the world” as it is cheap, can be mass-produced and is stored in a standard fridge.  However, it has attracted controversy about its effectiveness against new variants, whether it should be used in the elderly and how far apart the doses should be given, due to a lack of data.

The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation, known as Sage, has been scrutinising evidence from vaccine trials.

Its interim recommendations said the vaccine is 63 per cent effective overall.

The WHO’s director of immunisation, Dr. Katherine O’Brien, said the South African study was “inconclusive” and it was “plausible” the vaccine would still prevent severe disease.

However, Oxford scientists still expect their vaccine to prevent people from becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 and needing hospital treatment.

“There is no reason not to recommend its use even in countries that have circulation of the variant,” said Dr. Alejandro Cravioto, the chairman of WHO’s Sage.

Prof Sarah Gilbert, the chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said: “It is excellent news that the WHO has recommended the use of the Sars CoV-2 vaccine first produced in Oxford.”

“This decision paves the way to more widespread use of the vaccine to protect people against COVID-19 and gain control of the pandemic.”