British pharmaceutical group AstraZeneca says that, following additional research, it has a “winning formula” for its vaccine against the novel Coronavirus, pending a decision by the UK regulator in the next few days.
“We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else,” AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said in the Sunday Times. He said the vaccine, developed in conjunction with Oxford University, would provide 100% protection against severe forms of COVID-19.
Based on intermediate results for large-scale clinical tests carried out in Britain and Brazil, the British laboratory had announced in November that its vaccine was effective in an average 70% of cases, as against more than 90% for those of Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
That average masked wide disparities between two protocols: 90% effectiveness for volunteers who first received half a dose, then a full dose one month later, but only 62% effectiveness for another group vaccinated with two full doses.
These results had come in for criticism since the injection of the half dose had been due to an error and only a relatively reduced group had followed this protocol. The firm had then announced that its vaccine needed additional study.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is eagerly awaited since it is relatively cheap and, unlike the one developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, it does not need to be conserved at -70 degrees, which makes vaccination on a large scale and in senior-citizens’ homes much easier.
The United Kingdom, which in early December became the first Western country to administer doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, is counting on this second vaccine to stem surging infections attributed to a new COVID-19 strain.
“So far, we think the vaccine should remain effective,” against the new strain, Soriot said, “but we can’t be sure, so we’re going to test that.”
He added that new versions of the vaccine had been prepared just in case, although his company hoped they would not be needed. “You have to be prepared,” he said.
The UK Government announced on Wednesday that it had submitted a full set of information on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to the British regulator, MHRA.
According to the British press, the regulator is due to make its decision known in the next few days, with a view to having the injections rolled out from the 4th of January.