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Coronavirus: Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccine ‘up to 90% effective’ at preventing Covid-19

The Covid-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca is up to 90 per cent effective, it has been revealed today (November 23).

The UK has previously placed an order for 100 million doses of the vaccine and the first doses could be administered next month, with the majority following in January, February and March.

First doses of the vaccine could be rolled out in December (43228006)
First doses of the vaccine could be rolled out in December (43228006)

The vaccine has been shown to work in different groups, including the elderly. It still requires regulatory approval.

Its effectiveness - or efficacy - depended on the dosing pattern.

One pattern suggested by scientists involves giving a half dose followed by a further full dose at least one month later, and this resulted in 90 per cent effectiveness among the 2,741 people tested this way.

Another pattern, in which a full dose was followed at least one month later by another full dose, led to 62 per cent efficacy in the 8,895 people involved in this part of the trial.

The combined analysis suggested an average efficacy of 70.4 per cent, with protection conferred 14 days or more after the second jab.

No-one receiving the vaccine on the trials had a severe case of Covid-19 or required hospital treatment for the virus.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) would now assess if the 90 per cent effectiveness dosing regime could be used.

He said: “I’m really very pleased, I really welcome these figures – this data that shows that the vaccine in the right dosage can be up to 90 per cent effective.”

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and easier to store than the vaccine from Pfizer, which has now been shown to be up to 95 per cent effective - initial results had suggested 90 per cent - but must be kept at temperatures below -70 degrees.

“If this all goes well in the next couple of weeks, then we are looking at the potential of starting the vaccination programme next month for this Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as well as the Pfizer vaccine,” added Mr Hancock. “But in all cases the bulk of the rollout will be in the new year. We are looking with high confidence now that after Easter things can really start to get back to normal.”

How the Oxford vaccine works. Graphic: PA (43228003)
How the Oxford vaccine works. Graphic: PA (43228003)

Professor Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford Vaccine Trial at Oxford, said: “These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives. Excitingly, we’ve found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90 per cent effective and if this dosing regime is used, more people could be vaccinated with planned vaccine supply.

“Today’s announcement is only possible thanks to the many volunteers in our trial, and the hard working and talented team of researchers based around the world.”

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today’s programme about the 90 per cent finding, he added: “There is just a hint in the data at the moment that those who got that regime with higher protection, there is a suggestion that it was also able to reduce asymptomatic infection.

“If that is right, we might be able to halt the virus in its tracks and stop transmitting between people.”

Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca
Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of AstraZeneca

Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer of Cambridge-headquartered AstraZeneca, said: “Today marks an important milestone in our fight against the pandemic. This vaccine’s efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against Covid-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency.

“Furthermore, the vaccine’s simple supply chain and our no-profit pledge and commitment to broad, equitable and timely access means it will be affordable and globally available, supplying hundreds of millions of doses on approval.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Incredibly exciting news the Oxford vaccine has proved so effective in trials. There are still further safety checks ahead, but these are fantastic results.”

Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said the announcement took everyone a step close to a time when vaccines can be used to bring an “end to the devastation” caused by Covid-19.

“We will continue to work to provide the detailed information to regulators,” she said.

“It has been a privilege to be part of this multinational effort which will reap benefits for the whole world.”

The vaccine works by using a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees. It is a technique that has been used to create vaccines against a number of pathogens, including flu, Zika and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

Beech trees are now in place at AstraZeneca’s new R&D Centre on Cambridge Biomedical Campus, due to open in 2021. Picture: AstraZeneca
Beech trees are now in place at AstraZeneca’s new R&D Centre on Cambridge Biomedical Campus, due to open in 2021. Picture: AstraZeneca

Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech applied on Friday to the US Food and Drug Administration for regulatory approval for their vaccine, which was 94 per cent effective in those aged over 65, who are most vulnerable to the virus.

The companies said they would “be ready to distribute the vaccine candidate within hours” of approval being received.

The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the jab from Pfizer and BioNTech, and could receive 10 million of them by the end of the year.

It has also ordered five million doses of a jab from Moderna, which trials have also shown to be 95 per cent effective.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, tweeted: “Oxford jab is far cheaper, and is easier to store and get to every corner of the world than the other two.”

He said the vaccine could be stored in a fridge rather than the minus 70C to minus 80C needed for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

He added: “This is very welcome news, we can clearly see the end of tunnel now.

“There were no Covid hospitalisations or deaths in people who got the Oxford vaccine.

“Although no serious reactions were reported in people who got the Oxford vaccine, we do need to await the full safety data and to monitor safety of all vaccines carefully if and when they are rolled out.

Laboratory work at AstraZeneca. Picture: Marco Betti/AstraZeneca
Laboratory work at AstraZeneca. Picture: Marco Betti/AstraZeneca

“The reported efficacy of 70 per cent is an interim measure and, as more data accrue, we will get a better idea of the protection it affords.

“Importantly, from what we have heard the vaccine seems to prevent infection not just disease.

“This is important as the vaccine could reduce the spread of the virus as well as protect the vulnerable from severe disease.”

Professor Azra Ghani, chair in infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said: “Once again we are waking up on a Monday morning to further good news about a Covid-19 vaccine.

“The results from this trial of the Oxford/AZ vaccine are highly encouraging, demonstrating significant efficacy.

“A particular strength of this vaccine is that it can be stored in a fridge; this means that it can be distributed around the world using existing delivery mechanisms.

“This could therefore have a truly significant impact across the globe and enable an end to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Of course much will be made of the difference in overall efficacy between this vaccine (70 per cent) and the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines (95 per cent).

“However, it is encouraging to see that, in a sub-analysis, a fractional dosing schedule in which the first dose was administered at a lower level than the second resulted in higher efficacy and gave results comparable to the other vaccines (90 per cent).”

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said: “It’s not yet fully clear why a half dose and then a full dose was potentially more protective, but if the final results continue to show this pattern of around 90 per cent effectiveness, this would allow greater vaccine supply not just in the UK but also globally.”

The development of the vaccines is remarkably quick - within a year of the virus appearing. In the US, it typically takes eight years for a new vaccine to be developed and approved.

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