Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine secures UK approval for use

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Britain became the first country in the world to approve the coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca as the nation battles the surge of the new highly contagious variant of the virus.

The approval marks a major turning point which will help the UK for a massive expansion of its immunization campaign. The country has ordered 100 million doses from the manufacturer AstraZeneca enough to vaccinate 50 million people.

The approval from the medicines regulator shows that the vaccine is both safe and effective. The Oxford University and the UK-based multinational pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca started developing the vaccine in the first months of 2020 and tested it on the first volunteer in April, later large-scale clinical trials involving thousands of people were conducted.

“The government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorize Oxford University- AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for use,” the health ministry said.

AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is the second jab to be approved in Britain after the Pfizer-BioNTech shots were given a green signal in early December. As of now over 600,000 people in the UK have been vaccinated since Margaret Keenan became the first in the world to be inoculated for the coronavirus outside of a clinical trial.

The regulatory approval is a boost for AstraZeneca and the Oxford team, which have been criticized for a lack of clarity about the results from late-stage trials. “Today is an important day for millions of people in the UK who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit,” AstraZeneca Chief Executive Pascal Soriot said.

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will bring a significant increase in the vaccination as it is cheap and easy to mass-produce. Unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine which needs ultra-cold storage at -70C, the Oxford vaccine can be stored in a standard fridge.

Priority groups for immunization including the elderly, care home residents and health and care workers and they are already been identified.

The new vaccine approval is following the statement of Public Health England that the country is facing an unexpected level of virus spread and increased concerns from health officials in parts of Wales, Scotland and the south of England.

Innoculation plan

The immunization campaign will now start giving as many people as possible their first dose of vaccine. The target is to give as many vulnerable people as possible protection from COVID-19. The decision is based on advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson stated, “priority should be to give as many people in at-risk groups their first dose, rather than providing the required two doses in as short a time as possible. Everyone will still receive their second dose and this will be within 12 weeks of their first. The second dose completes the course and is important for long term protection.”

How it works 

The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is developed from a genetically modified common cold virus commonly infected chimpanzees. It has been altered to stop it from causing an infection in people and to carry the blueprints for part of the coronavirus, known as the spike protein.

Once these blueprints get inside the body they start producing the coronavirus’s spike protein, which the immune system recognizes as a threat and tries to distort. So, when the immune system comes into contact with the virus for real, it will know what to do.