Coronavirus: Oxford vaccine takes world ‘a lot closer’ to ending pandemic, says leading professor

Samuel Lovett

The professor behind the University of Oxford vaccine believes her candidate takes the world “a lot closer” to being able to end the coronavirus pandemic, after it was announced it is 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid.

Due to the huge amount of doses set to be provided by AstraZeneca and the company’s commitment to ensuring equitable distribution across the world, the vaccine is likely to play a leading role in unlocking the Covid crisis, said professor Sarah Gilbert.

Large-scale trial results show that the vaccine is 90 per cent effective if administered at a half dose and then at a full dose, or 62 per cent effective if administered in two full doses.

Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial group, said it will take a “little bit longer” to have robust data on the vaccine's effectiveness in older adults.

However, he said not enough time had passed to know whether people were still protected a year after being vaccinated.

AstraZeneca has pledged to manufacture 3 billion doses of the vaccine by the end of 2021, which will be distributed among a wide variety of high, middle and low-income countries.

Earlier in the summer, it agreed to manufacture 300 million doses for the World Health Organisation’s Covax Facility — a programme dedicated to ensuring the fair and equitable distribution of vaccine supplies.

The British-based pharmaceutical also reached a licensing agreement with the Serum Institute of India, which will supply 1 billion doses for low- and middle-income countries.

AstraZeneca’s supply commitments vastly outsize the number of doses that both Moderna and Pfizer intend to produce throughout 2021.

Because of this, Prof Gilbert is confident that her vaccine will be best positioned to have a truly global impact in bringing the pandemic under control.

When asked if the Oxford vaccine was set to take a leading role, she said: “I think it probably is.

“The very large number of doses and the global distribution are both very important components to that. Some of the manufacturers will not produce as many doses, so will therefore have limited impact.”

Pfizer has pledged to manufacture a total of 1.3 billion doses of its vaccine next year. Moderna is committed to producing between 500 million and 1 billion doses globally. Both have been shown to be around 95 per cent effective in preventing disease.

Prof Gilbert said that the success of the Oxford vaccine, which will be assessed by regulators in the coming weeks, will help to ease the gradual transition back to normality.

“I think it takes us a lot closer to being able to end this pandemic by vaccination, not least because if all goes well, there'll be so many doses of this vaccine available and that’s going to really be able to make a difference,” she told The Independent.

“I’m very optimistic. I feel there will be more good news on other vaccines as well.”

The vaccine is set to cost much less than its rivals, at £2.26 a dose. In contrast, the Moderna candidate is likely to cost between £18.78 and £27.79, while Pfizer is expected to be priced along similar lines.

Prof Gilbert also explained that the ease with which her vaccine can be stored means it will it be less complicated for authorities in distributing doses, compared to the other two jabs.

“This vaccine doesn’t require frozen storage. It’s 2-8C which is usual for vaccines, so that means it fits into existing distribution networks and supply chains, so that makes it a lot more deployable.”

The Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored and transported at -70C while the cold chain requirements for the Moderna jab are -20C.

Explaining the process of administering doses out in the community, Prof Gilbert said: “Once you piece the seal and take the dose out, you’ve got six hours to use the rest of it.

“I don’t think that'll present a problem, as vaccine clinics are going to be having large numbers of people coming through their doors and GPs are used to doing this with flu programmes. The average time spent in a clinic is very quick. They do this very efficiently.”

However, she warned that it would still take time to roll out doses across both the UK and global market.

“The doses manufactured in the UK will need to get to the right parts of the UK to get it into clinics,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to do. It’s unprecedented to try and vaccinate large portions of the country so quickly. It will be challenging.”

The UK can expect to receive 19 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Oxford jab by the end of this year, the head of the pharmaceutical giant has said.

Tom Keith-Roach, president of AstraZeneca UK, said a further 15 million doses could be ready by the end of the year alongside the 4 million doses that are already on standby.

It comes as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) begins to analyse phase three data from the clinical trial.

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