The vaccine will be prioritized for the country’s most vulnerable groups early in the new year, according to statements from the company and the government on Wednesday.
The move will help the U.K. ramp up vaccination and provides vindication for the homegrown shot, which has faced questions about discrepancies in its clinical-trial results. (Photo source: Reuters)
AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine won U.K. clearance, marking the first approval worldwide for a shot that’s faced questions but will be key to mass immunizations. The vaccine will be prioritized for the country’s most vulnerable groups early in the new year, according to statements from the company and the government on Wednesday. It’s the second coronavirus injection to be cleared for emergency use in the U.K. after Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s in early December.
The move will help the U.K. ramp up vaccination and provides vindication for the homegrown shot, which has faced questions about discrepancies in its clinical-trial results. The government has invested more in the product than in any other vaccine, buying 100 million doses. The shot can be deployed swiftly because it’s easier to transport and store than the Pfizer-BioNTech one, requiring only refrigerator temperatures rather than deep freezing.
A first dose of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine will be given to as many people as possible, followed by a second dose four to 12 weeks later. A government advisory group said the priority should be to vaccinate large numbers as quickly as possible rather than completing a two-dose regimen right away.
The approval comes as the U.K. seals its divorce from the European Union with a trade deal and tightens lockdowns. Coronavirus cases are surging in the country, with a new strain raising concern globally.
“We will start to get ahead of the pandemic, protect health and economies when the vulnerable are vaccinated everywhere,” said Andrew Pollard, Oxford lead investigator for the vaccine.
The new shot has been approved for all adults over 18, with the first doses set to be released to the U.K.’s National Health Service on Wednesday ahead of the start of vaccinations in January.
The new vaccine has faced questions because of differing results from two dosing regimens in trials.
When patients were given two full shots, the vaccine was 62% effective — less than the Pfizer-BioNTech shot and another from Moderna Inc. A group that accidentally received half of the first dose showed better protection, with efficacy reaching 90%. But participants were 55 years old or less, and because older people who are most at risk of severe Covid-19 often show more sluggish immune responses, the results leave some doubt as to whether the efficacy will stand up to further testing.
U.S. Trial A U.S. trial that aims to evaluate the shot in 40,000 people is ongoing and should clarify some of these questions, with results expected early in 2021.
The vaccine clearance may be soon followed by others, including India, thoug the European Union is not expected to act on it until at least February. The U.S. has also said approval is some ways off.
Developing countries have been counting on the success of the Astra-Oxford shot due to its comparatively easy storage conditions and lower price. The vaccine, which the partners have committed to provide at cost during the pandemic, accounts for more than 40% of supplies going to low- and middle-income countries, based on agreements tracked by London-based research firm Airfinity Ltd.
“This is a moment to celebrate British innovation,” Health Scretary Matt Hancock said. “This vaccine will be made available to some of the poorest regions of the world at a low cost, helping protect countless people from this awful disease.”
The U.K. was the first western country to approve a vaccine against Covid-19 in December. The National Health Service has said it hopes to be able to offer every vulnerable person a shot by late spring as more supplies become available.