LONDON: AstraZeneca said on Monday its Covid-19 vaccine could be as much as 90 per cent effective, giving the world’s fight against the global pandemic a new weapon, cheaper to make, easier to distribute and faster to scale-up than rivals.

The British drug-maker 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.

“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 on average prevented 70pc of Covid-19 cases in late-stage trials in Britain and Brazil but the success rate rose to 90pc if the vaccine was administered as a half dose followed by a full dose. The efficacy was 62pc if the full dose was given twice, as it was for most study participants.

The drug’s cost works out at just a few dollars a shot, a fraction of the price of shots from Pfizer and Moderna

No serious safety events were confirmed, the company said.

AstraZeneca’s shares fell 4pc, on track for their worst daily performance in six-months, as investors perceived the efficacy data as disappointing compared with rivals. Pfizer and Moderna , which reported that their vaccines prevented around 95pc of cases, had set the bar for success sky-high.

The AstraZeneca shot does, however, have some advantages over offerings from US rivals.

The drug’s cost to governments works out at just a few dollars a shot, a fraction of the price of shots from Pfizer and Moderna, which use a more unconventional technology.

It can also 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 faster rollout means both rich and poor countries that had been drawing up plans to ration vaccines can distribute them more widely, helping to eventually halt the social and economic disruption of a pandemic that has killed 1.4m people.

“The bulk of the vaccine rollout programme will be in January, February, March. And we hope that sometime after Easter things will be able to start to get back to normal,” said Matt Hancock, health secretary of Britain which has pre-ordered 100 doses for its 67m people.

In poor countries, where the logistics of distributing rival vaccines posed a bigger challenge, the effect of a cheaper and easier alternative could be even more pronounced. Zahid Maleque, health minister of Bangladesh, which is buying in 30m doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine made in India, called the findings “really good news”.

“The big advantage of having the vaccine is that it can be stored, transported and handled at 2-8 degrees Celsius, and we have that storage facility,” he said.

The World Health Organisation’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan called the results “encouraging” and said the health body looked forward to seeing the data.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2020

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