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Oxford jab passes trials as vaccine hopes rise

2020-11-23 HKT 21:35
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  • The AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine works out cheaper than rivals from the United States. File image: Reuters
    The AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine works out cheaper than rivals from the United States. File image: Reuters
AstraZeneca said on Monday its Covid-19 vaccine could be around 90 percent effective, giving the world another weapon to fight the global pandemic and potentially cheaper to make, easier to distribute and faster to scale-up than rivals.

The British drugmaker said it will have as many as 200 million doses by the end of 2020 – around four times as many as US competitor Pfizer. Seven hundred million doses could be ready globally as soon as the end of the first quarter of 2021.

The vaccine was 90 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 when it was administered as a half dose followed by a full dose at least a month later, according to data from late-stage trials in Britain and Brazil. No serious safety events were confirmed, the company said.

"This means we have a vaccine for the world," said Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford University vaccine group that developed the drug.

The vaccine's cost works out at just a few US dollars a shot, a fraction of the price of drugs from Pfizer and Moderna, which use a more unconventional technology.

And it can be transported and stored at normal fridge temperatures, which proponents say would make it easier to distribute, especially in poor countries, than Pfizer's, which needs to be shipped and stored at -70C, the sort of temperature typical of an Antarctic winter.

The effectiveness of AstraZeneca's vaccine depended on the dosing, and fell to just 62 percent when given as two full doses rather than a half-dose first.

But scientists cautioned against seeing this as evidence that it would be less useful than rivals. Vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna each prevented about 95 percent of cases according to interim data from their late-stage trials.

"I think it is a real fool's errand to start trying to pick these three (Pfizer/Moderna/Astra) apart on the basis of snippets of phase 3 data from press releases," said Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London.

"For the bigger picture, my suspicion is that by the time we are a year down the line, we'll be using all three vaccines with about 90 percent protection – and we'll be a lot happier."

Pascal Soriot, Astra's chief executive, said the data showing that an initial half dose was more effective than two full doses was good news, as more people could be vaccinated faster with a limited supply. (Reuters)