What the World Health Organization really said about the COVID-19 vaccine mix
The World Health Organization clarifies statements by its chief scientist on the safety and effectiveness of mixing and pairing COVID-19 vaccines, after comments at a press conference were released from their context and caused confusion.
Canadian experts stressed that the remarks by WHO officials did not relate to Canada’s COVID-19 vaccination program and did not contradict the recommendations of the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) and the Agency. of Public Health of Canada (PHAC).
At a press conference on Monday, WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan answered a reporter’s question on whether or not there was a need for potential third doses – or boosters – of COVID-19 vaccines.
The question came in the wake of Pfizer’s announcement that it was seeking approval from the United States Food and Drug Administration to make third doses.
As part of a lengthy response, Swaminathan cautioned against individuals deciding for themselves whether or not they need extra doses.
“There is a tendency now for people in countries with sufficient vaccine availability, you know, to voluntarily start thinking about an extra dose,” she said.
“It’s kind of a dangerous trend here where people are in a… area with no data and no evidence when it comes to mix and match,” she said. “It’s going to be a chaotic situation in countries if citizens start to, you know, decide when and who should take a second, third, or fourth dose.”
But the headline that emerged in a Reuters news service that was picked up by other media outlets was: “WHO warns of people mixing and matching COVID vaccines.”
This has raised concerns among some readers about Canada’s approach to immunization, which includes mixing vaccines.
This title is misleading. @doctorsoumya of @WHO cautioned against individuals “buying vaccines” outside of public health regulations (and in some cases getting the 3rd 4th dose themselves). She did NOT say that each country’s vaccine policies were “dangerous”. 1/3 https://t.co/IgWn6dlwiu
A day later, Reuters posted a clarification on Twitter.
The press service also updated the title of the story to read: “WHO is warning individuals against mixing and pairing COVID vaccines.“
CLARIFICATION: The WHO clarified that public health agencies, not individuals, should make decisions about mixing and pairing COVID vaccines, based on available data. We delete other tweets without context https://t.co/r3u0FKgvhb pic.twitter.com/ITjGM1PvPD
Was WHO talking about Canada?
No. Swaminathan spoke of the lack of evidence supporting the need for an extra dose after a person is fully vaccinated.
She also highlighted the urgent need for vaccines to travel to low and middle income countries where the majority of people have not even received a first dose to protect against COVID-19, including the delta variant.
Is the WHO suggesting that health agencies should not recommend mixing doses?
No. In fact, the opposite is true.
“During our global press conference on COVID 19, Dr Soumya Swaminathan explained that individuals should not decide for themselves, public health agencies can do so, based on the available data,” he said. WHO in a statement to CBC News Tuesday.
Swaminathan also tweeted to clarify his position when the deceptive story was shared on Twitter.
Individuals should not decide for themselves, public health agencies can, based on the available data. Data from mix and match studies of different vaccines are awaited – both immunogenicity and safety need to be assessed https://t.co/3pdYj4LUdz
“Context is extremely important,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CBC News Network on Tuesday.
He said WHO officials “were really referring to people who had already received, say, a full cycle of a series of vaccines and who, for lack of a better word, then chose their own adventure. and tried to get extra doses of a vaccine. “
WATCH | Dr Isaac Bogoch clarified the advice on mixing vaccine doses:
Swaminathan said advice on mixing and pairing vaccines must come from public health agencies – which is exactly what is happening in Canada.
“When public health agencies and advisory committees make recommendations, including on mixed timelines, they are based on data,” said Dr. Carolyn Quach-Thanh, pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist in Chu Ste. . Justine in Montreal. She is also the past president of NACI.
“We are not only looking at immunogenicity and efficacy, but we also need to make sure the diet is safe,” Quach-Thanh told CBC News Tuesday.
Is Canada’s Immunization Approach Working?
Yes. Infectious disease experts and epidemiologists largely agree. As more people are vaccinated, cases of COVID-19 are rapidly declining across the country, as are hospitalizations and deaths.
“Completing your vaccine series by obtaining a second dose is essential for achieving optimal and longer lasting protection against COVID-19 disease and its associated severe consequences,” PHAC said in an emailed statement to CBC News on Tuesday. .
NACI’s recommendations for taking a different vaccine as a second dose were released on June 1, based on evidence and data from other countries – which is the kind of evidence-based approach that the scientist WHO chief advocates.
Canada has been mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccines for weeks based on emerging research from Spain and the UK who found combining AstraZeneca with injections from Pfizer to be both safe and effective in preventing COVID-19.
Since Moderna and Pfizer are both mRNA vaccines, NACI also stated that they could be used interchangeably.
“The interchangeability of vaccines is not a new concept,” PHAC said in its statement.
“Similar vaccines from different manufacturers are used when vaccine supply or public health programs change. Different vaccine products have been used to complement a series of vaccines against influenza, hepatitis A and others.