By Thomas Neuburger
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine seems to be the least covered in the U.S. press — is there some kind of ban on positive comment on it? — so I thought I'd offer the latest for this edition of Virus News.
We now have a few more data points on the this vaccine as well as the vaccination situation as a whole:
1. The World Health Organization has given the AstraZeneca vaccine global approval for emergency use — perhaps due to its price, but definitely due to its minimal storage requirements and longer shelf life:
A World Health Organization (WHO) panel on Wednesday recommended the AstraZeneca and Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use for those 18 and older.
The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) issued its second approval for a COVID-19 vaccine to AstraZeneca’s vaccine, which is expected to broaden the reach of the inoculation effort as the shot does not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures like some other vaccines.
2. The AZ vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine each offer about 65% protection (as "protection" is defined) within two weeks after a single dose is administered. This is very good news, though the article containing this information says the Pfizer vaccine so far fails to match the 95% efficacy found in the clinical trials.
The [first Pfizer] dose reduced the symptomatic infection risk by 65 per cent in younger adults, and 64 per cent in over-80s.
Experts found Brits given two shots of the jab saw protection rise to between 79 and 84 per cent, depending on age.
Although lower than the 95 per cent efficacy shown in clinical trials, the figures remain hugely encouraging....
Scientists say early data also shows the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab — which was rolled out a month after Pfizer — offers similar levels of protection across all age groups.
3. AstraZeneca is also developing version of its vaccine effective against the South Africa strain:
Developers of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine expect to have a modified version that will be effective against the South Africa strain by fall, a top researcher said on Saturday.
Sarah Gilbert, Oxford University’s lead vaccine developer, told the BBC that the AstraZeneca vaccine made in partnership with the school currently provides “minimal protection” against the South African strain. However, she added that the vaccine would still protect against severe cases of the virus.
Gilbert also said that creating a new version of the vaccine that would be effective against the South African strain would require less time and less clinical testing than the original.
"This year we expect to show that the new version of the vaccine will generate antibodies and recognize the new variant. And then it will be very much like working on flu vaccines, so people will be familiar with the idea that we have to have new components, new strains in the flu vaccine every year," Gilbert said.
4. The AZ vaccine is already about 75% effective against the U.K. variant:
The AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine protects against a more transmissible variant of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom, according to research published Friday.
The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that the vaccine is 74.6 percent effective against the variant, “similar” but somewhat lower than the 84 percent effectiveness against the non-variant strain.
Bottom lines so far:
• The U.S. still hasn't approved the AZ vaccine, though I don't imagine the hold-up will be long. (One wonders though — it's very hard to find positive coverage of the AZ vaccine in the broadcast places most people get their news.)
• The AZ product may be no more effective against the virus than the currently approved Pfizer and Moderna products, but they are cheaper and far easier to store. When it is rolled out, expect to see a plentiful supply (finally).
• Protection against the U.K. variant is already good (though not great) with current vaccines, and AZ will have a modified version that also works well against the South African variant sometime this summer.
• The faster our species develops "herd immunity," by vaccination and infection-plus-recovery, the slower will be the emergence of new virus variants.
For once, the light at the end of this tunnel may be just a light and not the soon-to-be-wreck of another oncoming train. Stay tuned.