Britain on Wednesday granted emergency approval for a homegrown coronavirus vaccine from the University of Oxford and the British-Swedish pharmaceutical firm AstraZeneca, adding a second shot to the fight against a surging outbreak, driven here by a new, highly infectious variant of the virus.
The early morning announcement was made by Britain’s health ministry and did not contain new information to support the decision by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve the new vaccine.
Researchers from the Oxford-AstraZeneca team earlier published interim results from clinical trials that showed their vaccine was 62 percent effective for volunteers who were given two full doses and 90 percent effective for a smaller subgroup who received a half-dose followed by a full dose.
The scientists said they were studying why the different dose regimes produced such different results. The health ministry said more information on the dosing would be provided later Wednesday.
Britain needs another vaccine, as does much of the world, to meet its ambitious goal to inoculate most of the country’s population in the coming months.
Britain earlier this month granted emergency approval to the coronavirus vaccine from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and the German company BioNTech, becoming the first Western country to authorize mass inoculations.、
The country has injected some 600,000 people with the Pfizer vaccine, but experts say the government must ramp up quickly, to inoculate 2 million people a week — 10 times the current rate — if it wants to beat back the pandemic quickly.
Britain has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“Today is an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine,” said Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, in a statement. “It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.”
Public health officials say there is much to recommend the new vaccine, as it cost as little as $3 a dose, is relatively easy to manufacture at huge scale, and does not require special handling or deep freezers to store or transport.
The Pfizer vaccine is 95 percent effective, but requires special handling, and most be kept in special freezers and dry ice at extremely low temperatures.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC that Britain’s immunization strategy will now shift to giving as many people as possible the first shot of the vaccine.
“In the data, the scientists and the regulators have found the immunity comes from around two weeks after the first dose, and then the second dose should be taken up to 12 weeks later to give you that long-term protection,” he said. “This means we can spend the first three months vaccinating people with the first doses, getting them that immunity, getting people protection quicker than we possibly could have done otherwise.”
Hancock also said that the need to keep the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in specialist fridges has “made it more challenging to get out, especially to some of the smaller care homes, and those limitations aren’t there for this Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was “truly fantastic news — and a triumph for British science,” adding that “we will now move to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible.”
The news comes amid a spike in coronavirus cases, driven by a new variant of the virus that appears to be 50 percent more transmissible. British hospitals currently have more coronavirus patients than they did when the first wave gripped the country in April.
On Tuesday, Britain recorded more than 53,000 cases — the highest in a single day. Over 40 percent of the population is living under the highest tier of restrictions and the government is expected to announce new restrictions later in the day.
Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told the BBC that the pandemic this year was “like being in a blizzard.”
“We’ve been really struggling uphill through snow drifts with this icy wind in our faces and I think this morning we do have some respite with this good news and the warmth that that brings,” he said.
(THE WASHINGTON POST)