The coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford has shown promising results after a trial involving 20,000 volunteers, the BBC reports. Researchers have announced that the vaccine is 70% effective, but may be as much as 90% effective when a half-dose is followed up with a full-sized dose.
Scientists were unable to account decisively for the reason why the lower initial dose, which was given to around 3,000 people, was more effective. One theory is that a larger dose is sometimes rejected by the immune system. Another is that a low dose followed by a higher one is a more exact replica of the coronavirus, and creates a stronger immune response.
After the triumphant announcements of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines which showed 95% immunity, the Oxford results may seem slightly disappointing, but this shouldn’t be the case. The Oxford vaccine, developed in partnership with AstraZeneca, has some significant advantages over the other two.
Firstly, it is much easier to store. The Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept at an extreme minus 70°C, way below a normal freezer temperature, and the Moderna vaccine requires minus 20°C storage. The Oxford vaccine can be stored at normal fridge temperature. This will make it much easier for the pharmaceutical industry to stock and distribute around the world.
Another advantage of the Oxford vaccine is that it is far cheaper than the other two, costing around £3 per dose, as opposed to Pfizer’s (£15) and Moderna’s (£25). It is also far easier and cheaper to mass produce, as it is based on more established technology. The pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has made a pledge not to profit from the results.
It is worth noting that all the vaccine results are at an interim stage, and still awaiting final authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration and UK regulators. However, after a wait of almost a year it is exciting news, and the UK already has plans in place to roll out a mass vaccination programme.
According to the Guardian, the Oxford vaccine is likely to be distributed first in the UK. Experts say this is because it presents fewer storage and distribution challenges than the other two. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation have given priority for care home staff and residents, and anyone aged over 80, to be immunised first.
The NHS will manage the rollout, and vaccination centres in places such as sports halls, are already being set up around the country. The government has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford vaccine, and production has already started at a site in Wrexham. It is hoped that the programme can start in December.
After all health and social care workers, and those over 80, have received the jab, the over 75s will be next in line. This will be followed by a decreasing scale of age ranges, with those under 50 being the last in the queue. It is hoped the entire UK population will have received or been offered a vaccine by March 2021.