Oxford coronavirus vaccine is less effective than Pfizer and Moderna, but it has some advantages

  • AstraZeneca and Oxford announced interim data for their joint coronavirus vaccine candidate that’s currently in Phase 3 testing.
  • The researchers say the drug is 70% effective against COVID-19, and the efficacy rate can go up to 90% with a change in dosing regimen.
  • None of the volunteers injected with the actual vaccine candidate developed severe COVID-19, and none require hospitalization at all.

The third novel coronavirus vaccine candidate expected to reveal final results by the end of the year announced interim data on Monday, just a couple of weeks later than Pfizer and Moderna. The AstraZeneca/Oxford candidate that’s been at the forefront of COVID-19 vaccine research alongside the Pfizer and Moderna drugs is highly effective at preventing severe illness. However, its efficacy doesn’t match the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which are hovering at around 95%. Pfizer already released its final results, while Moderna’s interim data says its vaccine is 94.5% effective.

The Oxford vaccine is just 70% effective, according to interim data. That’s significantly lower than Pfizer and Moderna, but it’s still great news for coronavirus vaccine development. Health experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci hoped for COVID-19 vaccines that would be at least 70% effective, which would be a lot better than flu vaccines. Moreover, the FDA established a 50% threshold for vaccine approval, and 70% is well above it. On top of that, the Oxford drug has a few advantages over the other drugs, and scientists think they might already have a way to increase the efficacy to 90%.

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AstraZeneca and Oxford announced there were 131 cases of COVID-19 in their Phase 3 trial. Only 30 of the people who got the actual drug were infected, compared to 101 in the control group. The researchers said the vaccine is 70% effective so far as a result. Also of note, none of the 30 people developed severe illness or required hospitalization. That’s also a crucial factor with vaccines. As we’ve already learned so far, the main goal of first-gen vaccines is to prevent severe COVID-19 that could lead to death, not to prevent the disease entirely.

Oxford’s lead investigator professor Andrew Pollard told BBC he was really pleased with the results as “it means we have a vaccine for the world.”

The researchers also said that efficacy was 90% in an analysis of around 3,000 volunteers who received only half a dose at first, followed by a full-sized second dose at least one month later. This was an “intriguing” finding, according to Pollard. It would mean “we would have a lot more doses to distribute.” This dosing regimen was also associated with reduced transmission, Oxford said in a press release. The researchers found “lower rates of asymptomatic infection in the vaccinees,” but more data will be available in the future.

AstraZeneca announced in a press release there were no safety events related to the vaccine, and it was well tolerated across both dosing regimens. But the company did not specify any side effects in the announcement. The full scientific data hasn’t yet been published in a scientific journal.

Unlike the mRNA vaccines developed by BioNTech and Moderna, the Oxford vaccine uses a modified common cold virus that infected chimpanzees. The virus was altered so it can’t replicate inside human hosts, but the immune system still develops a response to it. The resulting neutralizing antibodies and T cells will also recognize the real SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and prevent it from infecting cells.

The Oxford vaccine is much cheaper to mass-produce than mRNA vaccines and can be stored at regular fridge temperatures. The Pfizer and Moderna drugs require sub-freezing temperatures, which might hinder vaccination efforts in certain markets. The Oxford vaccine can be stored and transported at 2-8 degrees Celsius, which is 36-46 degrees Fahrenheit, and it can be stored for at least six months. Oxford plans to make up to three billion doses in 2021.

Oxford’s vaccine could soon be approved for emergency use in the UK and elsewhere, and vaccination campaigns might start soon, targeting at-risk groups of people first.

The interim data is based on the UK and Brazilian arms of the trial, which had over 23,000 volunteers. Oxford has also enrolled volunteers in the US, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Kenya, and Latin America, and plans trials in Europe and Asia. In total, it will enroll up to 60,000 volunteers.

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