UK vaccine gives hope as US eyes mass rollout

Published November 25, 2020, 7:27 AM

by Agence France-Presse

LONDON/GENEVA — The developers of a coronavirus vaccine in Britain on Monday claimed success after mass testing, as the United States announced it aims to give jabs to 20 million people before the end of the year to combat surging infections. 

AstraZeneca and Oxford University said their drug had proved on average 70 percent effective at stopping the virus after trying it on 23,000 people, days after tests of two other drugs suggested they had more than 90 percent effectiveness. 

An undated handout picture released by the University of Oxford on November 23, 2020 shows a vial of the University’s COVID-19 candidate vaccine, known as AZD1222, co-invented by the University of Oxford and Vaccitech in partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. (Photo by John Cairns / University of Oxford / AFP / MANILA BULLETIN)

Olivier Nataf, head of AstraZeneca in France, said the 70 percent rate is the result of a combined analysis. 

Using a regimen of first injecting half a dose of the vaccine and then a full dose a month later the effectiveness was 90 percent, he said. 

Another system of one full dose first and another a month later the effectiveness is 62 percent. Nataf said this is an interesting lesson: the half-dose plus one dose scheme can become something that we follow, there is an opportunity for availability for the population, where it would take fewer doses to vaccinate more people. 

The second point to remember, he said, is that there is 100 percent protection against the occurrence of severe forms of illness and hospitalizations in participants who received the vaccine. 

And the last point is the confirmation of safety: no serious side effects have been reported, the vaccine is well tolerated in both dosing regimens. Finally, there is greater simplicity in storage, transport, handling, under normal refrigeration conditions of 2 to 8 degrees. This is a very interesting element from the public health standpoint, Nataf said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs that thanks to the vaccine “the escape route is in sight” from the coronavirus crisis – while warning that in the immediate future “Christmas cannot be normal.” 

AstraZeneca has said that the vaccine will be made available at cost price of around 2.50 euros ($3) per dose as part of its agreement with Oxford, in order to be able to provide the vaccine to the widest possible population, under the most equitable conditions of access possible. 

“We are committed to these three billion doses at cost price for 2021. We must not forget that this is a race against the virus rather than a race for the vaccine between competitors,” Nataf said. 

He said we will be producing three billion doses worldwide in 2021. 

Parallel and independent supply chains were set up very early on: in the United States, in several European countries and in the rest of the world, he said. 

Production is underway. We have announced the first agreements with various governments and non-governmental organizations, Nataf said. 

It will be possible to provide the vaccine as soon as the final results of clinical trials, and especially the evaluations by health authorities, are available. 

Production is ramping up, there are already 50 million doses of active substances available and capacity is being increased almost weekly, he added. 

Poorest must not be trampled With COVID-19 vaccines on the horizon, the planet’s poorest must not be trampled as countries scramble to get their hands on them, the World Health Organization said Monday. 

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the latest batch of promising results from final-phase candidate vaccine trials showed there was light at the end of the “long dark tunnel” of the coronavirus pandemic. But he said the world had to ensure they were distributed fairly across the globe. 

“Every government rightly wants to do everything it can to protect its people,” Tedros told a virtual press conference. 

“But there is now a real risk that the poorest and most vulnerable will be trampled in the stampede for vaccines.” 

“With the latest positive news from vaccine trials, the light at the end of this long dark tunnel is growing brighter. There is now real hope that vaccines in combination with other tried and tested public health measures, will help to end the pandemic,” said Tedros. 

“The significance of this scientific achievement cannot be overstated. No vaccines in history have been developed as rapidly as these. The scientific community has set a new standard for vaccine development.” Pooled vaccines project Anticipating the huge demand for any approved vaccine, the WHO has helped create the so-called Covax facility to ensure equitable distribution. 

Tedros said 187 countries were now on board. 

The international vaccine procurement pool aims to lay its hands on two billion doses of safe and effective vaccines by the end of next year. 

However, it is struggling to raise the funds needed to provide for the 92 low-income countries and other economies that quickly signed up. 

Tedros said $4.3 billion was needed immediately to support the mass procurement and delivery of COVID19 vaccines, tests and treatments, while a further $23.8 billion would be needed in 2021. 

“The real question is not whether the world can afford to share COVID19 vaccines and other tools; it’s whether it can afford not to,” said Tedros. 

Leaders at the virtual G20 summit said Sunday they would “spare no effort” to ensure fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines, but the united front was punctured by Angela Merkel who voiced concern about slow progress. 

The German chancellor said she was concerned that no major vaccine agreements had yet been struck for poorer nations, even as rich countries have already bought up huge numbers of doses from pharmaceutical firms. 

India is 1st priority India will be given first priority for the delivery of the AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccine after its British developers claimed success following mass testing, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume said Monday. 

The chief executive of the Serum Institute of India, Adar Poonawalla, said the manufacturer has already produced 40 million doses of the vaccine so far. “By January, we should have, you know, 100 million doses is minimum because we’ve already made 40 million doses,” Poonawalla, whose father founded the vaccine manufacturer, told television broadcaster NDTV. 

Poonawalla said he expected that some 90 percent of Serum Institute’s doses were to be sold to the Indian government at around 250 rupees (US$3.00).

“Most of that 90 percent is what’s going to go to the government of India and maybe 10 percent in the private market at the higher price (of 1,000 rupees),” he said. 

“We’re hoping for this emergency use license so that by the end of December, January we can start rolling out some (doses).” AstraZeneca and Oxford University said Monday that their drug had proved on average 70 percent effective at stopping the virus after trying it on 23,000 people.

The Oxford drug can be transported easily at normal refrigerator temperatures – unlike some of the other candidates, which require extremely cold storage. 

AstraZeneca said it planned to produce up to three billion doses of the vaccine in 2021 if it passes the remaining regulatory hurdles. 

The Serum Institute in August struck a deal with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to produce up to 100 million COVID-19 doses of two different potential vaccines from AstraZeneca and US biotech company Novavax. 

‘Immediate impact’ 

The latest vaccine results are particularly important as the Oxford drug can be transported easily at normal refrigerator temperatures – unlike some of the other candidates, which require extremely cold storage. 

AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot said despite the vaccine’s lower effectiveness compared with the other candidate drugs, it would still be highly effective and have an “immediate impact”. 

The firm said it planned to produce up to three billion doses of the vaccine in 2021 if it passes the remaining regulatory hurdles. 

Two other leading candidates – one by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech and another by US firm Moderna – reported 95 percent effectiveness in trials. 

The European Union said it could approve vaccines for use by the end of the year, following a statement from US officials that a vaccination program could be started as soon as next month. 

“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours of approval,” said Moncef Slaoui, head of the vaccine effort in the US, still the world’s worst-hit nation with more than 12 million infections and 255,000 deaths.

The government’s vaccine advisers will meet on December 10 to discuss approval. 

Slaoui estimated that 20 million people across the US could be vaccinated in December, with 30 million per month after that.