Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine gives 70% protection: Trial results up expectations

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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A large-scale study shows that the coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford in collaboration with drugmaker AstraZeneca prevents 70 percent of people from developing symptoms of COVID-19.

According to data from late-stage trials in Britain and Brazil, the vaccine was 90 percent successful in preventing COVID-19 when administered as a half-dose followed by a full dose at least one month apart.

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When administered as two complete doses at least one month apart it demonstrated 62 percent efficacy and the combined evaluation of both dosing regimens resulted in an average efficacy of 70 percent.

Moreover, no severe vaccine-related safety events were reported and it was well tolerated in both dosing regimens, it said.

“This vaccine’s efficacy and safety confirm that it will be highly effective against COVID-19 and will have an immediate impact on this public health emergency,” Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca’s chief executive, said in a statement.

The world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines by volume, the Serum Institute of India has joined hands with AstraZeneca, the Gates Foundation and the Gavi Vaccine Alliance to develop more than one billion doses of this COVID-19 vaccine for global supply.

The preliminary trial results from the British drugmaker represent a new milestone in the fight against a pandemic that has infected nearly 58.6 million people and roiled the global economy. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “incredibly exciting news the Oxford vaccine has proved so effective in trials.”

Is the results disappointing?

After vaccines from US-based pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna which showed 95 percent protection, the news from Oxford will be seen as both a triumph and a disappointment. Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine also claims to be more than 90 percent effective, though only based on 20 infections.

However, anything above 50% would have been considered a triumph just a month ago. Also, the Oxford jab is much cheaper, and is easier to store and reach every corner of the world compared to others because unlike the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, which need to be kept at much colder temperatures, Oxford vaccine can be stored at fridge temperature.

In addition, the data would raise optimism about the chances of a number of vaccines being successfully developed using different approaches. Experts in public health say the world will need a lot of vaccines to fulfill global demand. There are also reports which claim that perfecting the dose could improve Oxford vaccine’s efficiency up to 90 percent.

So if it is approved by authorities, it will still play a major role in tackling the pandemic.

How does it work?

A modified version of a chimpanzee common cold virus is used by the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to give instructions to cells to fight the target virus, which is different from the new messenger RNA (mRNA) technology deployed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

What happens next?

The company, one of the most valuable listed companies in the United Kingdom, will now immediately plan regulatory submissions of data to authorities around the world that have a conditional or early approval framework in place.

It will also seek an emergency use listing from the World Health Organization (WHO) to speed up availability in low-income countries. In parallel, the full analysis of the interim results is being submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

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