The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended the wide use of AstraZeneca (AZ) and Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine even in countries where variants of the virus are circulating.

The interim recommendations, made by the WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) panel, detail that the vaccine can be widely used, including in people aged over 65, and should be given in a two-dose regimen.

The SAGE panel also recommended that each dose should be given with an interval of around eight to 12 weeks.

Although early data from clinical trials in South Africa showed the jab offers ‘minimal protection’ against the variant discovered in this country, the WHO still recommended use of the vaccine in locations were this strain is circulating.

"There is no reason not to recommend its use even in countries that have circulation of the variant," said Dr Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of the SAGE panel.

"It is excellent news that the WHO has recommended use of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine first produced in Oxford,” said professor Sarah Gilbert, the chief investigator of the AZ/Oxford vaccine trial.

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