Nov 27, 2020 - Health

WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release"

Close up of a vial with the WHO logo on it
A medical syringe and vial with fake coronavirus vaccine in front of the World Health Organization (WHO) logo. Photo Illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Top scientists at the World Health Organization on Friday called for more detailed information on a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca have said the vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses. AstraZeneca has since acknowledged that the smaller dose received by some participants was the result of an error by a contractor, per the New York Times.

  • The half-dose version — the one with 90% efficacy — was tested on a group that didn’t include anyone older than 55, leading to questions about reliability of the results.
  • AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told Bloomberg on Thursday the company is likely to start a new global trial to measure how effective the vaccine is.

What they're saying: "What we've seen is a press release. And what is really the next most important step is that the data really needs to be evaluated based on more than a press release," Katherine O'Brien, director of WHO's immunization and vaccines department, said Friday when asked to comment on AstraZeneca's vaccine.

  • "So I think it's too early for us to say anything about what we make of the data and what is needed next. What we really see is more than a press release and to really see the data and have a chance to ask the questions that are needed," O'Brien said.
  • "We've heard from AstraZeneca that they would like to do a full trial," said Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO's chief scientist, after noting that all available information on the vaccine has so far come from a press release. "And so if we are to explore this hypothesis of having perhaps a better efficacy with a lower dose, then it would need a trial."

Go deeper: Why AstraZeneca's vaccine matters for the developing world

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