America may not use the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine because it has now bought so many alternative jabs, the country's top pandemic adviser to the White House has said.
Dr Anthony Fauci stressed the decision was not a criticism of the beleaguered vaccine, but it comes as weeks of bad news have battered worldwide trust in the jab.
Faith in the vaccine has already plummeted in Europe, though not in the UK, and countries including France and Germany have restricted the jab in younger people following rare cases of low platelet counts and clots in the brain.
The UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said the benefits still outweigh the risks, but healthy young people aged 18 to 29 should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines as an alternative.
America has stockpiled millions of doses of the AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine, though it has not yet been given approval for use. The country is also expected to soon amass a huge surplus of various vaccine doses as production ramps up. Excess doses may hit 600 million jabs later in the year according to some estimates.
Dr Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told the BBC: “I think that the AstraZeneca vaccine, from the standpoint of efficacy is a good vaccine. If the safety issue gets straightened out in the European Union, where I understand there is still a bit of controversy about how to use it and when to use it and what age group to use it, if that gets straightened out, the efficacy of that vaccine is really quite good.
“We clearly have enough vaccine, or will get enough vaccine, that does not include AstraZeneca, that would be enough quantitatively to vaccinate everybody in the United States. Whether or not we ever use AZ is unclear, but it looks right now, at this point in time that we will not need it.”
“It's not a negative indictment of AZ, it is just possible that given the supply that we have from other companies that we may not need to use an AZ vaccine.”
The jab from the UK-Swedish drug giant had been expected to be the workhorse of the worldwide push to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic, with its low cost and easy storage giving it an edge over other vaccines.
Yet the firm first faced suspicion over data in its trial results and then European leaders questioned its effectiveness and briefly suspended its use. Polling in late March showed that fewer than a quarter of people in France thought it was safe.
Dr Fauci said some 72 million Americans had been fully vaccinated and around 120 million had been given at least one dose. The country is still recording around 70,000 or 80,000 new cases a day however.
As the US vaccination programme hits around three to four million jabs per day, he predicted it would “blunt a real explosion of a surge, but it may not blunt a moderate increase, which we don't want to see.
“This is not a time to prematurely declare victory, because we have such a successful rollout of vaccines.”