Oxford's AstraZeneca Covid vaccine will 'hail beginning of the end of the pandemic', experts say

OXFORD'S coronavirus vaccine will "hail the beginning of the end of the pandemic", experts have claimed.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca jab – which is cheaper and easier to store than Pfizer and Moderna's has been found to be up to 90 per cent effective.

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Britain has pre-ordered 100 million doses of the jab – which is expected to cost just £2 a time and can be stored at standard temperatures – with four million ready to be rolled out as soon as it gets regulatory approval.

Late-stage findings, published today, showed the vaccine is 90 per cent effective when it's first given as a half dose, then followed by a full dose a month later.

It’s not clear why, but the team think it could be that a smaller dose may be a better way of kicking the immune system into action.

The effectiveness drops to 62 per cent when given as two full doses at least one month apart, to give a combined average efficacy of 70 per cent – which experts say is more than most flu jabs.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) would now assess if the 90 per cent effectiveness dosing regime could be used.

He told BBC Breakfast: "I'm really very pleased, I really welcome these figures – this data that shows that the vaccine in the right dosage can be up to 90 per cent effective.

"If this all goes well in the next couple of weeks, then we are looking at the potential of starting the vaccination programme next month for this Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine as well as the Pfizer vaccine.

"But in all cases the bulk of the rollout will be in the new year. We are looking with high confidence now that after Easter things can really start to get back to normal", he added.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, department of paediatrics at the University of Oxford, hailed today as "a very exciting day".

He said: "We have a vaccine for the world, because we've got a vaccine which is highly effective – it prevents severe disease and hospitalisation."

'Significant impact'

Prof Pollard said the team had managed to develop a vaccine that would be "accessible everywhere".

"I think this is an incredibly exciting moment for human health", he added.

While offerings from Pfizer and Moderna are slightly more effective at 95 per cent, experts have this morning hailed the development and have claimed that it could "mark the end of the pandemic".

Professor Azra Ghani, Chair in Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Imperial College London said the results from Oxford/AstraZeneca are "highly encouraging".

She said a particular strength of the vaccine is that it can be stored in a fridge unlike other offerings that have to be stored at -70C – which creates huge logistical problems.

We can clearly see the end of tunnel now

"This means that it can be distributed around the world using existing delivery mechanisms.

"This could therefore have a truly significant impact across the globe and enable an end to the Covid-19 pandemic", she said.

While a full safety data for the jab has not yet been published, preliminary data, published today, shows that overall the vaccine is 70.4 per cent effective – which is more than most flu jabs, experts say.

But tests showed the jab was 90 per cent effective in preventing Covid when it was administered as a half dose, followed by a full dose at least one month apart.

Professor Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford said an important thing to note is that the vaccine prevents infection – and not just disease.

He said: "We can clearly see the end of tunnel now. There were no Covid hospitalisations or deaths in people who got the Oxford vaccine.

"The vaccine could reduce the spread of the virus as well as protect the vulnerable from severe disease."

'Life saving vaccine'

The vaccine – called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 – uses a harmless, weakened version of a common virus which causes a cold in chimpanzees.

Unlike the Pfizer vaccine – which has been found to be 95 per cent effective – the Oxford jab can be stored at more standard fridge temperatures.

Prof Pollard added: "These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives.

"Excitingly, we've found that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90 per cent effective and, if this dosing regime is used, more people could be vaccinated with planned vaccine supply."

Prof Pollard said that it was important to begin mass vaccinations as soon as possible.

While experts have hailed the news as "exciting" one has stated that we should "be a little cautious about the findings".

Dr Michael Head, Senior Research Fellow in Global Health, University of Southampton said the results from the trials are "intriguing".

He said "These are provisional results that have not been peer-reviewed and the study is ongoing, so as with the other recent announcements from Pfizer and Moderna, we should be a little cautious about these findings.

"It’s not yet fully clear why a half dose and then a full dose was potentially more protective but if the final results continue to show this pattern of around 90 per cent effectiveness, this would allow greater vaccine supply not just in the UK but also globally."

'Stay vigilant'

Dr Head added that phase 2 trial results showed a protective effect in older populations which he said is important for high-income populations where elderly groups have been particularly badly affected by Covid-19.

He added: "Oxford have previously confirmed that there would be some level of distribution to low-and-middle-income countries so this may also be good news around the subject of equitable access to vaccine development with a product that is much easier to store and distribute.

"The pandemic is everyone’s problem at least until the vast majority of the globe is vaccinated, not just the rich countries.”

Brits are now nearly at the end of a four week lockdown and are expected to go back into tiers when the shut down ends on December 2.

Further relaxations could also been seen over the Christmas period.

While vaccine developments are exciting, experts have warned that we need to continue to be "vigilant" against the virus.

Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, University of Leeds said:"Whilst we are all eagerly awaiting the full data, including efficacy across age groups, vulnerable patients and whether infection is prevented compared to severe symptoms, we can all be encouraged by yet another leap forward in the strategy to deal with this pandemic.

“Nevertheless, whilst this prepares us for the next potential wave of infection, we must remain vigilant and resilient during the ongoing crisis."

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