By Michael Head, University of Southampton
In the long dark tunnel of 2020, November is the month the light appeared. Some may see it as bright light, others as dim light – but it is unmistakably a light.
On November 9, Pfizer announced the interim results of its vaccine candidate, showing it is “more than 90% effective” in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in late-stage human studies. The news was received with joy.
A few days later, the Russian Direct Investment Fund announced that the vaccine candidate they had funded – called Sputnik V – had 92% effectiveness in late-stage studies. Not to be outdone, Moderna announced that its vaccine candidate has a 94.5% effectiveness.
The latest announcement of the COVID-19 vaccine comes from Oxford University. And as with all of the above announcements, this was done via press release. The vaccine candidate developed in collaboration with AstraZeneca showed an overall effectiveness of 70.4%.
If this sounds disappointing, keep in mind that these are intermediate results and numbers are subject to change. In addition, the Oxford vaccine was given to one group of volunteers as two standard doses, which showed 62% effectiveness, and another group of volunteers as a smaller dose, followed by a second standard dose. This increased the effectiveness to 90%.
It is not immediately clear why this is the case. Professor Andrew Pollard, one of the leading researchers on the project, described the results as “fascinating”. He also stressed that using lower doses means that more vaccine doses would be available.
There were no cases of severe COVID-19 in those who received the vaccine. And it seems to create a protective immune response in the elderly. Although we will have to wait for the final breakdown of the results to clear this up.
Not the only measure
Although the Oxford vaccine is generally less effective than the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines – at least in this intermediate phase – there are other success factors to consider. Safety is one of them and the Oxford vaccine has been reported to have a good safety record with no serious side effects.
Another crucial factor is storage. The Oxford vaccine can be stored in a household refrigerator. The need for prolonged freezing throughout the vaccine journey from factory to clinic at extremely low temperatures – as seen with Pfizer vaccine – can be a problem for many countries, but especially poorer countries.
The Oxford vaccine, which is based on a viral vector, is also cheaper (about $ 4) than Pfizer and Moderna’s mRNA vaccines – about $ 20 and $ 33, respectively. AstraZeneca has made a “no-profit promise”.
As I mentioned earlier, fair distribution of new vaccines is vital, especially for low and middle income countries that do not have the profile or purchasing power of more affluent countries. GAVI – a global health partnership that aims to improve access to vaccination in poor countries – has been working to address this issue for years. She launched the COVAX initiative in 2020, which will have access to 700 million doses of COVID vaccine if clinical trials are successful.
Oxford and AstraZeneca previously committed to deliver 1 billion doses of their vaccine to low- and middle-income countries, with a commitment to deliver 400 million doses by the end of 2020. Of course, AstraZeneca is committed to providing more cans to countries outside of Europe and the US than its closest competitors.
An excellent start
These commitments will clearly not be enough for immediate global coverage, but it is an excellent place to start. Around 9% of the world’s population live in extreme poverty and the health systems around them are fragile. With promises of fair vaccine distribution, there is hope that poorer populations around the world will not be forgotten. The global health community must continue to focus in this area.
What does this announcement mean for the world? A huge amount, possibly. Keep in mind, however, that the studies are still ongoing and at the time of writing, regulators are not yet required to approve any of the new vaccine candidates. Even when these hurdles are cleared, we need to vaccinate the world, which requires successful overcoming of the complex obstacles related to distance, terrain, politics, cold chain logistics and human behavior.
The global pandemic is not over yet and will not last a long time – but the light is getting brighter.
Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow on Global Health at the University of Southampton
This article is republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.