Feb. 11, 2021



Feb. 11, 2021

Thursday, 11 February 2021

The Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine: what you need to know

The WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) has issued interim recommendations for use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine (AZD1222).

Here’s a brief summary; you may access the guidance document here.

Who should be vaccinated first?

While vaccine supplies are limited, it is recommended that priority be given to health workers at high risk of exposure and older people, including those aged 65 or older.

Countries can refer to the WHO Prioritization Roadmap and the WHO Values Framework as guidance for their prioritization of target groups.

Who else can take the vaccine?

Vaccination is recommended for persons with comorbidities that have been identified as increasing the risk of severe COVID-19, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and diabetes.

Although further studies are required for persons living with HIV or auto-immune conditions or who are immunocompromised, people in this category who are part of a group recommended for vaccination may be vaccinated after receiving information and counselling.

Vaccination can be offered to people who have had COVID-19 in the past. But individuals may wish to defer their own COVID-19 vaccination for up to six months from the time of SARS-CoV-2 infection, to allow others who may need the vaccine more urgently to go first.

Vaccination can be offered to breastfeeding women if they are part of a group prioritized for vaccination. WHO does not recommend discontinuation of breastfeeding after vaccination.

Should pregnant women be vaccinated?

While pregnancy puts women at higher risk of severe COVID-19, very little data are available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy.

Pregnant women may receive the vaccine if the benefit of vaccinating a pregnant woman outweighs the potential vaccine risks.

For this reason, pregnant women at high risk of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 (e.g. health workers) or who have comorbidities which add to their risk of severe disease, may be vaccinated in consultation with their health care provider.

Who is the vaccine not recommended for?

People with a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine should not take it.

The vaccine is not recommended for persons younger than 18 years of age pending the results of further studies.

What’s the recommended dosage?

The recommended dosage is two doses given intramuscularly (0.5ml each) with an interval of 8 to 12 weeks.

Additional research is needed to understand longer-term potential protection after a single dose.

Is it safe?

While this vaccine has yet to be recommended for an Emergency Use Listing by WHO, it has undergone review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and consequently meets WHO’s criteria for SAGE consideration.

The EMA has thoroughly assessed the data on the quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine and has recommended granting a conditional marketing authorisation for people aged 18 and above.

The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety, a group of experts that provides independent and authoritative guidance to the WHO on the topic of safe vaccine use, receives and assesses reports of suspected safety events of potentially international impact.

How efficacious is the vaccine?

The AZD1222 vaccine against COVID-19 has an efficacy of 63.09% against symptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Longer dose intervals within the 8 to 12 weeks range are associated with greater vaccine efficacy.

Does it work against new variants?

SAGE has reviewed all available data on the performance of the vaccine in the settings of variants of concern. SAGE currently recommends the use of AZD1222 vaccine according to the WHO Prioritization Roadmap, even if virus variants are present in a country. Countries should assess the risks and benefits taking into consideration their epidemiological situation.

Preliminary findings highlight the urgent need for a coordinated approach for surveillance and evaluation of variants and their potential impact on vaccine effectiveness. As new data become available, WHO will update recommendations accordingly.

Does it prevent infection and transmission?

No substantive data are available related to impact of AZD1222 on transmission or viral shedding.

In the meantime, we must maintain and strengthen public health measures that work: masking, physical distancing, handwashing, respiratory and cough hygiene, avoiding crowds, and ensuring good ventilation.

More information:

WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE)

WHO SAGE presenting its interim recommendations on the use of AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 in a press conference on 10 February 2021 (download audio file here)

Feb. 11, 2021

Webinar highlights the role of women in post-COVID-19 cooperation

A panel of Jewish, Buddhist and Christian women reflected on the role of women in promoting interreligious cooperation in a webinar entitled “Women and Interfaith Engagement: sharing lessons learnt during COVID-19 and beyond.”
African meditation on women weeping at the cross, gift by the churches in Congo, Ecumenical centre, Geneva, Switzerland, Photo: Nikos Kosmidis/WCC
11 February 2021

In his opening remarks, WCC programme coordinator for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation, Rev. Dr Peniel Rajkumar, shared hopes that the discussion would highlight “how women, through their interreligious engagement, have been agents of hope, hospitality and healing” in a world struggling with COVID-19, as well as “many other pandemics.”

Dr Gaya Gamhewage, head of Learning and Capacity Development for the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme highlighted how women’s disadvantaged position in society has enabled them “to see things from a different perspective, to embrace vulnerability, to have humility, to have discipline, but also to really ache and hurt while others are in pain.”

Rev. Dr Elina Hellqvist, interim director of the ELCF’s Office for Global Mission, noted that in the Finnish context where interfaith dialogue is relatively new, "we see more women involved in interfaith dialogue than in many other parts of the church life.” While women’s “practical attitude to everyday life” can be seen as a strength, it can also distract attention from “the big discussions” about faith values and principles, she added.

Dr Debbie Weissman, former president of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ), highlighted how the marginalization of women “in our own cultures and faith communities,” may have helped them develop “a certain kind of empathy or identification with others who are similarly marginalized,” resulting in the development of “a special kind of resilience.”

This online encounter was jointly organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC), Lutheran World Federation, and Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and moderated by Rev Dr Sivin Kit, Programme Executive for Public Theology and Interreligious Relations of the Lutheran World Federation.

Feb. 5, 2021

WCC, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue launch translations of “Serving a Wounded World in Interreligious Solidarity”
The World Council of Churches (WCC) and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue officially launched translations of their latest joint document, “Serving a Wounded World in Interreligious Solidarity: A Christian Call to Reflection and Action During COVID-19 and Beyond.”
Photo: WCC
5 February 2021

Meant to facilitate a wider reception of this document, these translations were released on 5 February, just a day after the first UN-designated International Day of Human Fraternity, to encourage member churches to use the document as a tool for reflection and action in serving the “wounded” in a spirit of fraternity.

Commending the document in a video message, WCC interim general secretary Rev. Dr Prof. Ioan Sauca, said: “It is experiences like these that have encouraged the WCC and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue to make these translations available so as to encourage the grassroots communities to work together to heal a wounded world, providing hope by compassionate and concrete acts of love carried out in solidarity.”

His Eminence Cardinal Miguel Ángel Ayuso Guixot (MCCJ), president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, said in his video message: “It is our hope that the document and its translations will help in advancing a greater interreligious solidarity….that our concerted and dedicated efforts shall continue to contribute, in their own ways, to promoting the spirit of human fraternity and enhancing freedom and equality everywhere…”

The joint document has already inspired some reflections and action-oriented programs.

Watch the WCC-PCID video message (

Feb. 4, 2021

Rev. Prof. Dr h.c. Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel: “Respect for the life and dignity of women needs to be promoted by all churches”

Our series of interviews with Thursdays in Black ambassadors highlights those who are playing a vital role in increasing the impact of our collective call for a world without rape and violence. Rev. Prof. Dr h.c. Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel is retiring as president of "Brot für die Welt" and "Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe" after leading the German charity for 20 years.

Rev. Prof. Dr h.c. Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel, Thursdays in Black ambassador. Photo: Courtesy of Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel
03 February 2021

In 2020, gender-based violence was called the “shadow pandemic” as cases of violence, especially against women and girls, increased tragically under COVID-related restrictions. In 2021, what actions do you hope to see taken globally to address this “shadow pandemic?”

Dr Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel: COVID-19 acts like a magnifying glass by making deficits and shortcomings we have to deal with in our societies visible. It unmasks injustice, inequality and structural violence of all forms. It hits all people, but the most vulnerable are the ones to suffer most. Having said so, one cannot be surprised about the increase in violence, especially domestic, against women and girls—unmasking the injustice, inequality and structural and ongoing physical violence against them which is pertinent in many if not most countries.

The homes of millions of women and girls worldwide have been very unsafe places for decades. Women have long been sexually harassed, violated, murdered by many—including civil servants, soldiers, rebels—and all these forms of violence against women have been tolerated by politics and public in too many countries. But now the situation is worse: Lockdowns and states of emergency are giving even more power to police and security forces, limiting the ability of concerned communities to monitor and prevent violence, and leaving women no chance to escape violent male family members and no place of refuge.

In 2021 (and beyond), the following actions are necessary:

The "shadow pandemic” must be globally lifted up as scandal—like Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa, did in his statement about the increased domestic violence in his own country: “Our men are declaring war against women!”

Policies for monitoring violence against women, for prevention of and protection against violence against women, for healing, support, legal persecution of perpetrators and compensation must be made part of the post-coronavirus rehabilitation strategies (including the allocation of resources for this in budgeting the rehabilitation plans).

Monitoring policies and financing at international and national level for overcoming the pandemic must as well have a focus on the structural constraints women and girls face in society. “Building back better” after the pandemic also applies to the position of women in their societies as equals.

The political will to implement fully international human rights instruments such as Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and Resolution 1325 as well as regional instruments needs to be fostered. As for my region—Europe—EU member countries such as Poland, Hungary and others cannot be left unchallenged for their boycott of the implementation of the Istanbul Convention.

The explosion of violence against women during the pandemic challenges the churches to denounce attitudes and cultures that do not regard, value and treat women as equal. Respect for the life and dignity of women needs to be promoted by all churches and ecumenical organizations. As sources and watchdogs of social norms and standards they have a special role to play in the fight against violence and the underlying discrimination against women and they should do so according to the Gospel. In the upcoming years they should address and help change the culture of inequality of men and women and of violence among their own believers, in their own organizations as well as in society. This coincides with insights and recommendations from the World Council of Churches (WCC) Reference Group for the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace.

We need a strong push and support of the churches by the WCC and other ecumenical actors on regional and international levels. WCC should place the issue of violence against women and girls and the underlying prejudice and practices of inequality and discrimination, etc. prominently on its agenda for the next assembly in Karlsruhe and make it part of its strategic plan for the years after the assembly.

We need policies and efforts at all levels.

We understand that Brot für die Welt (Bread for the World) and its overarching organization‚ Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung (Protestant Agency for Diakonie and Development) have made overcoming sexual and gender-based violence part of its strategic priority on the empowerment of women. What are the key aims of this strategy?

Dr Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel: As Evangelisches Werk für Diakonie und Entwicklung, we aim to achieve gender justice and equal political, economic and social participation of women. We want to forward and strengthen women’s economic independence and their networks and systems of support. In this context, we put special emphasis on the empowerment and agency of women and girls and their allies.

We will renounce the growing rightwing, fundamentalist, antifeminist narrative that tries to reduce women’s and girls’ rights, their public space and their equal participation in society and politics even further.

Overcoming sexualized and gender-based violence at international and national levels is part of our strategy. A focus lies on the bodily and mental autonomy and health of women and girls, their access to safe spaces, healing and justice in cases of persecution and violence.

The prevention, protection and provision of safe spaces, the healing of their traumas and violations for women and girls in the context of conflict, war, displacement and migration is a strategic focus particularly of Bread for the World and Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe. As Bread for the World we aim to strengthen our partner churches and faith-based organizations to act as prominent change agents to overcome gender-based discrimination and sexualized and gender-based violence.

You have long been committed to ending sexual and gender-based violence. How can Thursdays in Black make a difference to all of our efforts?

Dr Cornelia Füllkrug-Weitzel: As a global campaign, Thursdays in Black has the potential to raise awareness in the churches and in societies regarding the tremendous detrimental impact gender-based violence has on every aspect of the lives of women and girls but also on men and boys and finally on society as a whole.

As a global movement, Thursdays in Black has the potential to advocate and lobby for the policies and measures mentioned above to overcome gender inequality and gender-based violence – first within the churches and the ecumenical movement and secondly in societies and politics.

With Thursdays in Black there is a basis for networking and building alliances both amongst faith-based actors and between faith-based and secular actors. This is important for strengthening the movement, making our voices heard, and putting our demands forward.

Thursday in Black may become a signal, an encouragement for women and girls in the churches to finally tell their story, demand their healing, protection and justice and build a network of solidarity among themselves.