The UK tries to chill AstraZeneca’s issues as its CEO publicizes a brand new vaccine research
A man walks past a sign at an AstraZeneca location in Macclesfield, Central England.
Phil Noble | Reuters
LONDON – UK government ministers and experts have openly endorsed a coronavirus vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University after doubts arose in the US this week.
The Minister for Housing Robert Jenrick was the latest in a series of comments on the vaccine, which has shown an average of 70% effectiveness in preventing the virus.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to be overly concerned,” he told Sky News on Friday morning. “We have now written to the agency that will independently assess the accuracy and safety of the vaccine.”
UK Government Leading Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance said the focus should be on the fact that the vaccine actually works when asked about doubts about the study.
“The main result is that the vaccine is working and that is very exciting,” Vallance said during a press conference Thursday. Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty repeated his comments at the same conference, saying that there is always a scientific debate about practically anything.
“From our point of view, it is important to leave this in the hands of the regulator … they will be doing an assessment on a lot of data that is not currently publicly available, in terms of effectiveness and safety,” added Whitty.
Rollout next month
The UK has asked its Medicines Agency to review the vaccine for a temporary supply, which could mean it will be launched in the country before the end of the year. Four million cans could be used in the UK next month, but concerns in the US could mean the launch there could come much later.
The 70% figure was the combination of a smaller group of people who received an involuntarily lower dose of the vaccine that was 90% effective and a larger group who received a higher dose and only 62% effectiveness showed.
Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed at the White House, and others in the US expressed concern about the age group tested, saying the 90% effectiveness was only shown for the lowest risk group, which were 2,741 people 55 years.
John LaMattina, past president of Pfizer Global R&D, said Tuesday it was “hard to believe” that the FDA would issue an EUA for a vaccine whose optimal dose was only given to 2,300 people.
Pascal Soriot, the CEO of AstraZeneca, confirmed to Bloomberg Thursday that the British pharmaceutical company is likely to conduct an additional global study to evaluate the effectiveness of its Covid-19 vaccine.
The company defended itself against the criticism and emphasized the monitoring of the study by the external Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) and the fact that the data published on Monday only represented interim results and further data would follow.
It was stressed that the “highest standards” have been used and that “additional analysis will be carried out”.
This particular vaccine is seen as critical to emerging economies because of its relatively simple manufacture and transportation, as well as its low cost compared to potential competitors.
According to AstraZeneca, the vaccine can be stored, transported, and handled and administered within existing health facilities for a minimum of six months under normal refrigeration conditions (36-46 degrees Fahrenheit). It has also committed to distributing the vaccine “for the duration of the pandemic” for no profit.
AstraZeneca’s shares fell again on Friday and have fallen nearly 7% since the test results were released on Monday morning.
Jim O’Neill, former chief economist at Goldman Sachs and now chairman of the UK think tank Chatham House, said he hoped the confusion about the results doesn’t “cloud” the water. He mentioned anti-vaccination activists, a voice that speaks out against vaccination. They believe that ingredients in a vaccine can harm the body contrary to what is scientifically known.
“In my opinion, it’s a bit confusing that presenting these things via press releases without the detail that the vaccine community wants, given the kind of general, the kind of anti-Vax crowd that is out there, isn’t that helpful “he told CNBC’s” Squawk Box Europe “on Friday.
“The second is that it seems … that regulators here (in the UK) don’t seem to share the same concerns that are being openly expressed in the States.”
– CNBC’s Sam Meredith contributed to this article.