The coronavirus vaccine jointly developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca has been approved for use by the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), providing hope amidst rising cases as the country battles a new strain of the virus.
The UK has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is sufficient to vaccinate 50 million people. The first doses of the vaccine will be rolled out from Monday, 4 January 2021. This will supplement the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which had been approved by UK regulators on 2 December 2020.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine can be stored at temperatures between 2 to 8 degrees Celsius, whereas the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has to be kept at a temperature of about -70 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, the Oxford vaccine can be easily transported from UK factories. It is therefore anticipated that the rollout of the Oxford vaccine to GP practices and care homes will be swift.
The Oxford vaccine has a composite efficacy of 70%. For groups that received a half dose followed by a full dose during the trials, the vaccine had an efficacy of 90%. In contrast, two standard doses of the vaccine were 62% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 disease. In accordance with advice from the government’s joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), priority will be given to at-risk individuals to receive their first dose of either the Pfizer or Oxford vaccine, rather than providing two doses in four weeks in line with protocols during the trials.
The approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine comes amidst rapidly rising cases in the UK. On Tuesday, 29 December, 53,135 new Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK, setting a record for the highest number of new cases registered in a day. At the same time, NHS England has revealed that the number of people being treated in hospitals for Covid-19 is now 20,426, which is greater than the previous peak of 19,000 in April.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the vaccine approval marked a “significant moment” in the battle against Covid-19, adding that “2021 can be a year of hope and recovery because we can see our way out of the pandemic”.
He added, “Because we’ve got enough of this vaccine on order to vaccinate the whole population – we’ve got 100m doses on order – add that to the 30m doses of Pfizer and that’s enough for two doses for the entire population.”
According to a news article published on the Oxford University website, Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said, “This is a day for the team developing the vaccine to celebrate, after a year of extremely hard work under difficult circumstances. Now that the first authorisation or use of the vaccine outside of clinical trials has been granted, we still have more to do and will continue to provide more data to multiple regulatory authorities, until we are able to see the vaccine being used to save lives around the world.”
Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Oxford, said, “This is a great day for British science and a great day for universities everywhere. Above all, it is a great day for the many people whose lives will be saved by this vaccine. We are greatly indebted to those who have designed, developed, manufactured and evaluated ChAdOx1.