UK approves use of 2nd COVID-19 vaccine with easier storage
Vaccine is approximately 70% effective for preventing the coronavirus illness.
Britain on Dec. 30th became the first country to authorize an easy-to-handle COVID-19 vaccine whose developers hope it will become the “vaccine for the world.” The approval and a shift in policy that will speed up rollout of the vaccine in the U.K. come as a surge in infections threatens to swamp British hospitals.
The Department of Health said it had accepted a recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to authorize emergency use of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
“The rollout will start on Jan. 4 and will really accelerate into the first few weeks of next year,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock told told Sky News. Britain has bought 100 million doses of the vaccine.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot told BBC Radio 4 the company could start shipping the first doses of the vaccine Dec. 30 or 31 “and the vaccination will start next week and we will get to 1 million — and beyond that — a week, very rapidly.”
Partial results from studies in almost 24,000 people in Britain, Brazil and South Africa suggest the shots are safe and about 70% effective for preventing illness from coronavirus infection.
That’s not as good as some other vaccine candidates, but Soriot recently told the Sunday Times newspaper that he was confident the vaccine would prove as effective as its rivals.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be relied on in many countries because of its low cost, availability and ease of use. It can be kept in refrigerators rather than the ultra-cold storage some other vaccines require. The company has said it will sell it for $2.50 a dose and plans to make up to 3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
Researchers also were criticized for lack of information in September, when studies were suspended because a participant suffered a serious illness. AstraZeneca initially declined to provide further details due to patient confidentiality.
Ultimately, the trials resumed after regulators reviewed safety data and decided it was safe to continue. Published partial results show no hospitalizations or severe disease among those who received the vaccine. A separate study testing the AstraZeneca vaccine in the U.S. also is underway.
Britain’s action likely means the World Health Organization will soon clear the AstraZeneca vaccine for use in a global effort to help poor countries, called COVAX. The initiative, led by WHO and the vaccines alliance GAVI, has secured access to at least 100 million doses of the vaccine, with options and other deals to buy more. But none can be distributed until green-lighted by WHO.