The Oxford coronavirus vaccine will “protect 95 per cent of patients” and is “as effective as the Pfizer and Moderna” alternatives, Pascal Soriot, chief executive of AstraZeneca, told British daily The Sunday Times, adding scientists had figured out a “winning formula to get efficacy up there with everybody else”.
However, AstraZeneca, a British-Swedish pharma giant, has yet to release data confirming these claims. Interim results of Phase III trials released last month showed a 70 per cent efficacy rate as the average of two dosing regimens. One of these regimens – a half dose followed by a full dose – showed 90 per cent efficacy, while Pfizer’s data showed 95 per cent and Moderna’s 94.5 per cent.
Mr Soriot also said the vaccine, which is likely to be cleared this week by the British health regulator, “should be” effective against an aggressive mutant strain of the virus first detected in London and southeast England in September.
The Oxford vaccine, which will be mass-produced in India by the Pune-based Serum Institute, is one of three drugs being considered for emergency use authorisation by the Indian government. The other two are those developed by Pfizer (which has already been rolled out in the United Kingdom, the United States and several European countries) and Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.
On Saturday sources told news agency PTI that the DCGI (Drug Controller General of India) was waiting for the British drug regulator to clear the Oxford vaccine.
Given that Pfizer is yet to present its data and Bharat Biotech hasn’t yet completed Phase III trials, it is likely, the sources added, that the AstraZeneca-Oxford drug will become the first Covid vaccine to be used in India. It also scores over its rivals on at least two critical counts – ease of storage and cost.
While the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius and the Moderna variant at minus 20 degrees Celsius, the Oxford vaccine can be kept at normal fridge temperatures – two to eight degrees Celsius. The difference could be crucial for a country as large as India.
The Oxford vaccine is also expected to be cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna options; it is likely to cost $2.5 per dose to Pfizer’s $20 and Moderna’s $25. All three require a two-dose regimen.
The Indian government has begun prepping for a nationwide rollout of whichever vaccine will be cleared first. Over Monday and Tuesday four states – Punjab, Gujarat, Assam and Andhra Pradesh – will take part in test runs of the vaccination process.
India expects to begin vaccination “in any week” of January, Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has said. As of Sunday morning the country reported 2.79 lakh active Covid cases. The total number of cases since the pandemic began in December last year is around 1.02 crore.
With input from PTI