Britain is on track to make Covid-19 vaccines widely available by next spring after the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca was up to 90% effective in trials, the head of the university’s Jenner Institute said yesterday.
The encouraging late-stage interim trial results were the third set of data showing efficacy levels among the seven vaccine candidates Britain has ordered, after Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna earlier this month.
“I think we are on track for the timeline...to start getting this vaccine rolled out from December,” Adrian Hill, director of Oxford University’s Jenner Institute that developed the vaccine, said.
Britain has secured 100mn doses of the AstraZeneca shot, 40mn of the Pfizer vaccine and 5mn of Moderna’s candidate.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has highlighted the prospect of vaccines as a reason for optimism that things could improve by spring after he introduced a second national lockdown in England this month to tackle rising infections.
“Clearly the most hopeful advance of all is how vaccines are now edging ever closer to liberating us from the virus, demonstrating emphatically that this is not a pandemic without end,” he told parliament yesterday.
AstraZeneca’s interim results showed that a regimen of two full doses was 62% effective in shielding people from Covid-19, though the efficacy rate jumped to 90% if the first shot was only half a normal dose.
Hill said high-risk groups would receive the AstraZeneca vaccine before it was rolled out to everyone in spring. “I think that could be done. It’s going to be an enormous effort...hopefully there will be vaccine available for all adults, but that’s likely to be springtime rather than in January,” Hill said.
AstraZeneca executive Pam Cheng said there would be enough supplies of the active ingredient in the vaccine to provide Britain with 20mn doses by the end of the year and 70mn by the end of March. She said that would translate into 4mn finished doses this year and 40mn by the end of March.
The vaccine is also being manufactured by other AstraZeneca partners. Britain’s health minister has asked the health service to be prepared to deliver vaccines from December 1, although he said he expects the bulk of the roll-out to happen next year.
“It’s marvellous,” said 59-year-old Jo Canilleri. “Hopefully we won’t take that long before we can actually get it, because... a lot of people are just ignoring this. It’s not a thing that you can ignore. I mean look at the lives we’ve lost.”
In Britain 55,000 people have died from Covid-19, the highest death toll in Europe.
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