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‘Vaccine for the world’ gets the green light – and it’s a big deal

Written by on 30 December 2020

Approval of the Oxford vaccine starts the race between injections and infections.

The surge in COVID cases, driven by the rapid spread of the new variant of the virus, means as many vulnerable people need to be protected as quickly as possible.

And this vaccine is a big deal.

The UK government have pre-ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford jab

There are 100 million doses on order, enough for the UK’s adult population.

And it can be stored and transported at fridge temperatures, making it much easier to distribute at speed than the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

GPs and nurses will be able to visit care homes without concerns about the temperature spoiling the jab.

Significantly, the medical authorities have allowed the second dose to be given up to 12 weeks after the first.

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That’s a break from the dosing schedule in the clinical trials, but it allows more people to be given at least some protection more quickly.

The medical regulators seem satisfied that there were no serious cases requiring hospitalisation following the first dose, and that seems to give them confidence that it is safe to wait such a long time before topping up with a second dose to give more durable immunity.

1,077 healthy adults in the Oxford vaccine study showed a strong antibody and T-cell immune responses
The Oxford vaccine can stay ‘stable’ at room temperature

They also seem to be confident that the vaccine works in the elderly. Some doctors were concerned that that there were few people over the age of 55 in the clinical trials.

But earlier studies showed older volunteers developed high levels of antibodies and T-cells after they were vaccinated.

So how to use the vaccine?

A nurse holding the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Coventry
The Oxford vaccine costs just GBP3 a dose – a third of its Pfizer/BioNTech rival

Studies so far show two full doses provide 62% protection, well below the 95% of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.

But there were indications, based on a relatively small number of volunteers, that protection from the Oxford vaccine increased to 90% if the strength of the first dose was halved.

AstraZeneca is continuing to gather evidence on the dose schedule and will provide that to the medical regulator.

Story of Oxford's coronavirus vaccine

Story of Oxford’s coronavirus vaccine

The UK Vaccines Taskforce has also said that it will run a ‘mix-and-match’ study in January, with volunteers being given the Pfizer jab followed three weeks later by the Oxford vaccine, or vice versa.

The technique is called a “heterologous” boost – the combination could marry the best bits of the immune response from both vaccines to give better, more durable, protection than is possible with either of them used alone.

But any vaccine is better than no vaccine at all. So starting inoculations next week is a huge boost.