AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine gets global approval

Wednesday January 06 2021
Covid-19 vaccine.

Oxford and AstraZeneca received approval for their vaccine, AZD1222, in the United Kingdom, making it the second to be approved in the UK. PHOTO | AFP

By Elizabeth Merab

Oxford and AstraZeneca received approval for their vaccine, AZD1222, in the United Kingdom, making it the second to be approved in the UK and third globally after those developed by Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna.

This is even as the United States reported its first incidence of the new coronavirus variant that was first identified in the UK. The new mutation is said to be more contagious and has prompted some countries to restrict travel from the UK. Globally, more than 81.9 million people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 and 1,787,283 have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The AZD1222 vaccine, developed by scientists at the University of Oxford in partnership with Swiss-British pharmaceutical AstraZeneca, was designed in the first months of 2020, tested on the first volunteer in April, and has since been through large-scale clinical trials involving thousands of people.

Compared with the first two (Pfizer/BioNtech and Moderna), which require to be stored under sub-zero temperature to remain viable, the AZD1222 vaccine can be stored under normal refrigeration temperatures at 2-8 degrees, making it easy to store, transport and distribute. The drug however has a lower efficacy than the first two.

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) has approved the vaccine for use in the country and has ordered 100 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, enough to vaccinate 50 million people and is expected to begin using it on January 4.

Announcing the approval, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said last week on Wednesday the vaccine would be available for those at the highest risk of Covid-19. The decision to approve the vaccine followed “rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness”, the DHSC said.


Appraisal of the Oxford vaccine has taken longer than it did for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which the UK approved faster than any other regulator in the world on December 2. The dossier of testing and trial results for the Oxford vaccine is more complicated.

Pfizer/BioNTech, whose vaccine is based on novel mRNA (messenger-RNA) technology, had positive and straightforward results, with 95 per cent efficacy from an international trial involving 43,000 people. On the other hand, Oxford/AstraZeneca had 62 per cent efficacy in their largest trial, of 11,636 people, but 90 per cent efficacy in 2,741 people, a small additional sub-group in the UK who were given a half dose of the vaccine, followed by a whole dose four weeks later.