A coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca can prevent up to 90 per cent of Covid infections, the researchers announced today.
Teams at Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna announced similar results earlier in the autumn.
The UK government has ordered batches of all three jabs, and is set to roll them out to the public if they pass rigorous safety checks by the British medicines regulator.
So what do we know about the three vaccines so far, and when might we get access to them?
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines prevent 95 per cent of Covid infections, according to their research teams. (They calculate this by comparing the number of infections among participants who had the vaccine with those who had a placebo).
Among volunteers who got half a dose of the Oxford jab followed by a full dose 28 days later, the vaccine was shown to prevent 90 per cent of Covid infections. Among a separate group, who got two full doses over the same time, the figure was 62 per cent.
How many doses has the UK government ordered?
The UK government says it has “secured early access to 350 million doses” from six vaccine teams around the world. Some of them haven’t reported the results of their trials yet, so we don’t know if all will turn out to be viable – but clearly the government intends to hedge its bets.
The largest single investment is in Oxford, which the government says will provide 100 million doses to the UK. We’ve also got 40 million Pfizer jabs on order, and a further 5 million from Moderna.
When the government announced its deal with Oxford/AstraZeneca in May, the business secretary Alok Sharma said the agreement would mean “we are able to make the vaccines available to developing countries at the lowest possible cost”. The CEO of AstraZeneca welcomed the government’s “generosity for its help in expanding access beyond the UK”.
But as FactCheck reported in October, it’s not clear exactly how many of the doses bought by the UK will be distributed to other countries. We’ve been trying to get answers from the government on this for some time.
What about safety concerns?
Researchers in all three teams say they have recorded no serious “safety events” relating to the vaccine. Volunteers have reported some short-term symptoms including headache and fatigue.
Now it’s for regulators around the world to do their own checks to make sure they are safe for use.
Unlike in Russia, where the Sputnik V vaccine was rolled out before full safety checks were complete, there’s no chance of getting a jab here until the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approves it.
The head of the MHRA said today that they have received the latest batch of data from Pfizer/BioNTech and have already begun their analysis.
When could UK rollouts begin?
Matt Hancock said today that subject to safety approval, he “hope[s]” to start rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in December, with the “bulk” completed in January, February and March.
The government said last week that Pfizer/BioNTech “is expected to begin delivery as early as December 2020” subject to MHRA authorisation, though Moderna would be “available to the UK in spring 2021 at the earliest”.
One of the main challenges when it comes to rolling out vaccines is how to store them. The Pfizer jab needs to be held at minus 70 celsius to be effective – which could create problems for the people tasked with doling out the doses, like GP surgeries.
Here’s where Moderna and Oxford have an advantage: their vaccines only need to be kept at fridge temperature, between 2 and 8 degrees. In the Oxford case, this can last for “at least” six months, according to the researchers.
How much do they cost?
It looks like the Oxford vaccine will be the cheapest of the three, at an estimated £3 per dose, versus Pfizer’s £15 and Moderna’s £25.