A pharmaceutical executive who helped develop the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has said it is “good” that booster jabs are being made available but he does “worry that vaccines reach everyone in the world, not just the wealthy countries”.
Professor Sir Menelas Pangalos, who said he is known as “Sir Mene” or jokily as “Sir Daddy” at home, was speaking after he collected a knighthood for his services to UK science from the Duke of Cambridge at a ceremony in Windsor Castle
In September the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) recommended that boosters be rolled out to eligible groups including adults 50 years and above, and on Monday it extended this advice to adults over 40.
As AstraZeneca’s executive vice president of biopharmaceuticals research and development, Sir Menelas started the collaboration with Oxford University and led the team from the pharmaceutical firm who developed the vaccine.
Sir Menelas, 54, said: “I think it is good that it is being rolled out to the over-40s.
“Each country has its own vaccines that it has to deploy. I think we still need some data on when we need to boost people, in all honesty.
“There is a debate as to whether you should be boosting a third time people, or giving first or second doses to people in countries who do not have vaccines.
“I think that is a little bit of a conundrum that countries face but I understand why individual countries and politicians are thinking about their own populations before others and, in that regard, I think that boosting is the best protection, particularly for the more vulnerable older cohort of your population.
“There is no doubt that boosting gives you an added level of protection, both against infection and severe disease.”
He added: “I do worry that vaccines reach everyone in the world, not just the wealthy countries.”
Almost two-thirds of AstraZeneca’s doses have gone to lower-middle income countries and “we are very proud of and we have done it not for profit as well,” he said.
Coronavirus booster jabs give more than 90% protection against symptomatic infection in adults aged over 50, according to a study by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
The research findings show that two weeks after receiving a Pfizer booster dose, protection against symptomatic infection was 93.1% in those who had initially received Oxford/AstraZeneca, and 94.0% for Pfizer/BioNTech.
Sir Menelas’s knighthood was announced in 2020, before the Covid-19 pandemic, for the work he was already doing in areas such as strokes, heart attacks and asthma plus the role he has played in helping AstraZeneca become a leader science in the UK’s science sector.
He described finally being made a knight by William as “a little bit surreal” but also a “hugely proud moment” for his family.
He said: “I have already had a few Zoom calls with him (William) about the vaccine, so he knew all about our work.
“He was telling me how hugely proud I should be and to send thanks to my team – which obviously I will.”
So this past two weeks my two daughters and wife have managed to sequentially catch COVID and have been convalescing at home in isolation. Has been impressive to see the virus spread from one to the other in 6 days.
— Menelas Pangalos (@MenePangalos) October 14, 2021
AstraZeneca’s 70,000-strong workforce is “hugely proud” of what they have done despite the stresses of having to develop a much-needed vaccine during a pandemic.
Sir Menelas said: “It has been hugely challenging for all different reasons – the politics, the desperation from different countries around the world and all that has entailed.”
Last month his wife Kelly, 46, and daughters Sofia, 13, and Anna, 12, caught Covid-19 and had to isolate at their South Cambridgeshire home.
Sir Menelas said: “It was a real reminder to me of how hard it is for people to keep a household, (and) manage a career at the same time or who have to care for people.”