AstraZeneca boss: We think we've figured out winning formula for COVID vaccine

·5-min read

The pharmaceutical boss behind the Oxford vaccine says researchers have found a "winning formula" to improve the jab's efficacy.

Trials of the vaccine, developed by the university along with AstraZeneca, showed an efficacy rate of 90% when people were given half a dose followed by a whole dose at least a month later.

When two full doses were given at least a month apart, the vaccine had an efficacy of 62%, meaning that - when all the results were taken into account, the overall efficacy was 70%.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were shown to be 95% and 94.5% effective respectively.

But Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, told the Sunday Times: "We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else.

"I can't tell you more because we will publish at some point."

Such an improvement would be a relief to the government, which has ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine, with around 40 million expected to be available by the end of March.

Mr Soriot said the earlier results had been seen by the pharmaceutical company as "positive", adding: "They meet the criteria established by regulators around the world.

"We assumed people would be a bit disappointed, that's for sure, but we didn't expect that storm."

Dr Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: "It looks really promising and it also looks very deliverable.

"We have huge optimism that this is a major part of how we can control the current surge."

He added that the global impact of this vaccine could be "much greater" than others and that it could "greatly accelerate" the UK's current vaccination programme.

This comes amid reports that the vaccine could be approved as early as next week, following the approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the first week of December.

At the moment, the only way to receive the jab is through the NHS, however there have been reports that private clinics are receiving daily requests from patients attempting to jump the queue.

Despite offering thousands of pounds, all patients will currently have to wait their turn to receive one of the doses pre-ordered by the government.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, distribution of the Oxford vaccine could begin as early as 4 January with the government hoping that more than two million people could have their first dose within the first two weeks.

Responding to the report, the government said that the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) must be given time to review the vaccine data.

"The medicines regulator is reviewing the final data from the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca phase three clinical trials to determine whether the vaccine meets their strict standards of quality, safety and effectiveness," it said.

"We must now give the MHRA the time to carry out its important work and we must wait for its advice."

It comes as concern grows about the spread of a new variant of the virus, which was first detected in the UK and appears to be more easily transmissible than the original version.

It also comes as many parts of the UK moved into tougher restrictions designed to limit the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Mirror reported that hundreds of GP surgeries and hospitals were still waiting to receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine and that some appointments made to vaccinate vulnerable people had been cancelled due to the delays.

The Sunday People reported that people at 12,000 care homes were missing out on the jab, despite them being at the top of the priority list.

Nadra Ahmed, chairman of the National Care Association, told the Sunday Mirror the Pfizer/BioNTech rollout was going to be "difficult" but added: "It's another case of the massive over-promise on something that just cannot be delivered. It's constant."

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And Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth urged the government to avoid what he said were "the same mistakes again" in being "too slow" to protect care home residents - a veiled reference to PPE and hospital discharges.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak praised vaccination efforts so far, telling the Mail on Sunday: "There will be tough days and months ahead, but there are reasons to look ahead to a brighter future and what 2021 promises.

"The early rollout of vaccines - and the incredible work of our scientists and NHS - means we can now see light at the end of the tunnel with this pandemic."

ANALYSIS: There's one disadvantage
By Rowland Manthorpe, technology correspondent

When it comes to rollout, the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine has three big advantages over the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. First, it's cheap, roughly a fifth of the price. Second, it does not need to be stored at temperatures as low as the other vaccines, making it much easier to distribute.

The other advantage is specific to the UK: We have lots of it.

The government has secured 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, compared to 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and seven million doses of the Moderna vaccine.

What's more, the UK can get access to it quickly, a crucial factor when every day's delay means more time in lockdown.

Yet there is also a disadvantage: the data from the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial has not been as clear as the data from the Pfizer one, which is most likely why approval has been delayed.

Comments by the chief executive of AstraZeneca suggests regulators have been given fresh data, but it is not clear that this information would support plans like the one suggested by Tony Blair, which involve giving children one dose, nor that it will be as efficacious as the other vaccines.

Put another way: there is still some uncertainty about the Oxford vaccine.

Hopefully that will be cleared up soon, but until it is, we should be wary about counting on it returning life to normal.