Will AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine get approved in U.S.?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 101 million Americans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is deployed in Europe, is vying to be the fourth available in the United States. Jenny Strasburg, a European correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, joined CBSN with more.

Video Transcript

LANA ZAK: To talk more about vaccines, let's bring in Jenny Strasburg. She's a senior European correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal." Jenny, thanks for being here.


LANA ZAK: So we have three approved coronavirus vaccines currently available in the US. AstraZeneca, which is deployed there in Europe, is vying to be the fourth, but what's held up the approval in the US?

JENNY STRASBURG: Well, it's been a number of things, Lana. It's a long and rocky road for this vaccine, starting with a pause in the US trials and the global trials last year over some health concerns. Now those trials were restarted, but it did cause a month delay, seven weeks, actually, in the US.

And meanwhile, other-- other shots caught up, right. Johnson & Johnson, a single-dose shot, much the similar technology as the AstraZeneca-Oxford shot, but single dose, it's very attractive to a lot of people. So then we had a lot of complications around blood clotting concerns, very rare but severe blood clotting concerns that arose in Europe in early March. That caused a lot of pausing among European countries as Europe really needed to continue vaccinating people and was relying heavily on this vaccine.

But back to the US, so unlike Moderna, and Pfizer-BioNTech, and Johnson & Johnson, the AstraZeneca vaccine has already been deployed four months. So there is all this what we call real-world data that exists, especially in the UK. The UK was the first country to authorize this vaccine for use.

The first shot, I think, was January 4, so you've got almost four months of data. The FDA wants to see all that. That is a lot of data. And then you add in its transmission data, it's called pharmacovigilance, it's everything that could be related to any side effect or adverse reaction. And as we know, there have been adverse reactions. So all that is taking just a lot of--

LANA ZAK: Right.

JENNY STRASBURG: --it's a very heavy lift.

LANA ZAK: Well, you mentioned, Jenny, those adverse reactions, the scrutiny that the AstraZeneca shot has faced in Europe for blood clots. But they've also faced a suit from the EU for under-delivering. Do you know, do they actually have the capacity to provide additional vaccines here in the US?

JENNY STRASBURG: So they're-- they're quite a ways behind their delivery in a number of places. And in Europe, you know, it's been a story that's consumed politicians and the public for months now, back to January, actually. You know, AstraZeneca set out to establish a global supply chain that would allow vaccines to travel in regions of the world without crossing oceans and going from Italy to Australia. But it's been a lot harder to actually make that happen.

In the US, you know, the problems with the plant that Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca shared, and that's been prioritized now for Johnson & Johnson, so it is an open question about where AstraZeneca will actually produce vaccines for the-- if it were to produce vaccines for use in the US market. And that's kind of getting ahead of where we are now.

But what they want is they-- they're seeking authorization because beyond, you know, the appetite or the supply needs of the US for this vaccine, it's a very important vaccine for the world. It's cheaper. AstraZeneca and Oxford are doing it for no profit for the duration of the pandemic and beyond for poorer countries. I mean, it's, like, 90% of the supply in India. And I think we all know the-- the horrible situation in India. So the more of these doses--


JENNY STRASBURG: --get out-- and a stamp of approval from the FDA would be a pretty big deal for this vaccine.

LANA ZAK: That's interesting because, as you know, supply is starting to exceed demand for COVID-19 vaccines in areas around the US. And so there's probably a lot of people wondering why even bother with US approval for AstraZeneca for the fight against the COVID-19 virus here in the US, because we-- we have more vaccine than we have people necessarily interested in getting vaccinated at this point.

But you're raising a very important point about the stamp of approval in the US having ramifications in the global fight against the pandemic. Let me ask you, Jenny, the US Defense Department and White House are considering making it mandatory for all members of the military to get the vaccine-- moving away from AstraZeneca.


LANA ZAK: But I'm wondering if you can tell us the latest about that?

JENNY STRASBURG: Well, so the latest is a discussion about whether we can move-- whether the government and the FDA can move the vaccines from emergency use authorization, which is a more constrained, you know, boundary of use for the pandemic, can move the vaccines, the three currently deployed, from that to full approval, which requires a deeper level of review. But as Anthony Fauci said, I think a day or so ago, he said he would be in favor of that. And one of the aspects of that would be it might make some people feel like, OK, it's not just emergency use. It's not just like we had to do this for the pandemic, but it's gone through the full approval process of the FDA, which is considered kind of a Good Housekeeping seal of approval for-- for reviews of drugs.

So there's that. It could help with hesitancy in the military. It also could allow a looser kind of distribution. It could allow more channels, not necessarily like the government in between, right. Right now it's been the government buying shots for use for the public. So this could open up the possibilities of distribution in different ways.

And it could just make people feel like, all right, it's like a full approval. I feel better about it. And it could open up-- for the Pentagon, it could actually move them a pivot from voluntary vaccination. They've talked openly about possibly doing mandatory vaccination.

And you know, it's a big question for not just the military, but university systems, California, I know, is discussing this, employers, manufacturing, hospitality. I mean, the story before this mentioned, you know, Disneyland or Disney World reopening. It's like, do you want your employees to have mandatory-- it's a big subject right now, right, as we look to--


JENNY STRASBURG: --surges in certain areas. So that-- that is potentially a big topic, not just in the military, but in the private sector and in other public sectors as well.

LANA ZAK: Absolutely. What happens in that decision-making process is definitely going to be watched by all these other industries. Jenny Strasburg, thank you.

JENNY STRASBURG: Thank you so much.