Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS)

Established in 1999, the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety (GACVS) advises WHO on vaccine-related safety issues and enables WHO to respond promptly, efficiently and with scientific rigour to vaccine safety issues of potential global importance. Outcomes of the deliberations of the GACVS are reported routinely in WHO's Weekly Epidemiological Record.

The Committee takes under consideration or makes recommendations regarding all aspects of vaccine safety that might be of interest and importance to Member States and to WHO, and that are of sufficient importance to affect WHO or national policies.

The Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has 15 members.43 They represent a broad range of disciplines covering immunization activities. These members:

  • Are independent and unbiased: They take decisions free of vested interests, including the interests of WHO itself or of other organizations. Each committee member signs a declaration of interest accordingly.
  • Offer broad expertise: They have the expertise to evaluate and make decisions in the field of vaccine safety. They are familiar with drug regulatory processes, with special reference to the needs of the low-income countries.
  • Take decisions with scientific rigour: All decisions of the Committee are based on the best available scientific evidence and expertise. It is authoritative, defensible and explicable in terms of fact, scientific evidence and process.

Since its establishment, GACVS has discussed a broad range of vaccine safety issues either causing, or with a potential to cause, public concern. These include general issues relevant to all vaccines, such as the safety of adjuvants, as well as vaccine-specific issues relating to long-standing vaccines and to new vaccines and vaccines under development.

Interactive excercise

Seek advice on vaccine-specific concerns addressed by GACVS by clicking on some of the following examples:

Question

Based on the information provided in the GACVS advice on BCG and HIV, define which of the following statements is correct:

A. Infants known to be HIV infected, with or without signs and symptoms should be immunized with BCG vaccine.
B. Infants with unknown HIV status who have signs and symptoms of infection should be immunized.
C. Infants born to women of unknown HIV status should be immunized.
D. Infants whose HIV status is unknown and who demonstrate no signs or reported symptoms suggestive of HIV infection should not be immunized.

Answer

Answer C is correct.

For infants known to be HIV infected, the risks linked to the vaccination outweigh its benefits with or without signs and symptoms.

  • They should not be immunized.

For infants with unknown HIV status who have signs and symptoms of infection and are born to infected mothers the risks usually outweighs benefits.

  • They should not be immunized. If infection status can be established early (virology), BCG may be administered once HIV infection ruled out.

For infants born to women of unknown HIV status the benefits outweigh the risks.

  • These infants should be immunized.

For infants whose HIV status is unknown and who demonstrate no signs or reported symptoms suggestive of HIV infection but who are born to known HIV-infected women benefits usually outweigh the risks.

  • These infants should be immunized after consideration of local factors (details in guideline79).

Key point

It is essential that concerns about vaccine-related adverse events are responded to in a prompt and efficient manner. The GACVS is the main global advisory body to provide such advice with necessary scientific rigour.