More good news as AstraZeneca finds a third Covid vaccine

Another week, another Covid-19 vaccine. This one from AstraZeneca and Oxford University is homegrown and ready to roll out fast. Matthew Partridge reports

Scientist doing science things
AstraZeneca has agreed to produce up to three billion doses
(Image credit: © AstraZeneca)

The good news keeps coming on the vaccine front, says Lex in the Financial Times – this time with positive results from AstraZeneca. The overall tally was “underwhelming”: the treatment’s average efficacy of 70% was “significantly less” than the figure achieved by the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. But the best results, of 90% efficacy, were achieved for participants who only received half of the first of two doses. This suggests that “more people can get a shot with the same amount of vaccine”. AstraZeneca has already agreed deals with drugmakers in Russia, Brazil and India to produce up to three billion doses.

Despite this apparent success, the market has punished AstraZeneca, with the drug giant’s shares falling by 3.8% when the news was announced, says Nils Pratley in The Guardian. Part of this is due to the need to explain the “wide gap” between the 62% efficiency in the main study and 90% for those who received the half-dose, full dose regime. AstraZeneca’s pledge “to distribute the vaccine at cost during the course of pandemic” also means that it “won’t make profits from the initial orders”. Still, it’s impossible to deny that a 90% efficiency rate in one study is “excellent”.

Near-perfect protection

The near-perfect level of protection is particularly impressive given the way the trial was conducted, says The Economist. While the numbers of people involved were smaller than in rival studies, AstraZeneca repeatedly tested all those involved in the trial to pick up asymptomatic infections. As a result, the efficiency of AstraZeneca’s jab is not necessarily worse than that of Pfizer and Moderna, who relied on people self-reporting symptoms, followed by a confirmatory test. This is important because those who are asymptomatic can still pass on the virus to others, so AstraZeneca’s jab may ultimately reduce the transmission of the virus. The interim results “will certainly please the UK government”, says Ross Clark in The Spectator. Not only is it a “homegrown” vaccine, developed from research carried out by the University of Oxford, and part-funded by the state, but the UK has also ordered 100 million shots. What’s more, the facts that the vaccine itself “is less than a fifth of the price of the Pfizer vaccine” and can be “kept at ordinary fridge temperatures” will greatly facilitate a roll-out, as well as making it the “obvious choice” for developing countries.

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While Britain and America have ordered enough doses for their entire populations, most young and able-bodied people in other countries “may have to wait until 2022 to be vaccinated”, even with multiple vaccines, says Aimee Donnellan on Breakingviews. That means that many unvaccinated people could “keep avoiding public transport and mass gatherings”, which will “put a cap on any recovery in corporate profitability”.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri