LONDON — The coronavirus vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford was found to be "highly" protective, potentially paving the way for a vaccine that is more affordable and easier to distribute than some of its peers.
An interim analysis of clinical trials showed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had an average efficacy of 70% in protecting against the virus.
Researchers said this figure could be as high as 90% by tweaking the dose, but the overall results show the vaccine's efficacy is slightly lower than other leading candidates.
However, White House coronavirus advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has previously said a vaccine that is 50% or 60% effective against the virus would be acceptable.
It is hoped a Covid vaccine could help to bring an end to the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed more than 1.3 million lives worldwide.
Huge challenges remain before a vaccine can be rolled out. The global battle to secure prospective supplies has raised concerns about equitable access, while questions remain over the logistics of mass production, distribution, and cost.
Equity analysts at Jefferies said it was "challenging" to compare the efficacy of AstraZeneca's vaccine with those of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, citing key differences in how the trials have been conducted.
The analysts highlighted weekly swabbing to detect Covid-19 among participants involved in AstraZeneca's trials — not just confirmation of suspected cases by symptoms as in U.S. trials. They also stressed that a meningococcal vaccine was used for comparison, not placebo.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was assessed over two dosing regimens. One showed an effectiveness of 90% when trial participants received a half dose, followed by a full dose at least one month later.
The other showed 62% efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart.
No hospitalizations or severe cases of the disease were reported in participants receiving the vaccine.
The Jefferies analysts said that when it comes to storage, affordability and distribution, AstraZeneca's vaccine appears to have an advantage.
The British pharmaceutical giant has said its vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing health-care settings. It has also pledged to distribute the vaccine at no profit "for the duration of the pandemic."
The Financial Times has previously reported the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which requires two doses, is priced at approximately $3 to $4 — significantly lower than the prices reported for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
In comparison, Moderna has said its vaccine candidate remains stable at the temperature of a standard home refrigerator for up to 30 days. It can also be stored for up to six months at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
In August, the U.S. biotechnology firm said it was charging $32 to $37 per dose for its vaccine for some customers.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires a storage temperature of minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit and requires special storage equipment and transportation. This could make it difficult for some countries to distribute.
Pfizer is reportedly charging $20 per dose for its vaccine.
Strategists at Deutsche Bank described the news from AstraZeneca on Monday as a "big deal," saying a string of encouraging vaccine developments in recent weeks constituted "an unprecedented victory for science."
They suggested that emerging markets, most notably Brazil, Mexico, India and Indonesia, were likely to be the "big beneficiaries" of the AstaZeneca vaccine. That's because "the cheaper cost of production and distribution of AstraZeneca is especially relevant for lower and middle-income countries," they said.
AstraZeneca has said it is making "rapid progress" in terms of manufacturing, with a capacity to produce up to 3 billion doses of the vaccine next year.
The U.S. and India have agreed to procure 500 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, according to data compiled by researchers at Duke University's Global Health Innovation Centre.
The EU has reached a deal to buy 400 million, and the COVAX facility, a global initiative aimed at ensuring equitable access to Covid-19 treatments and vaccines, has ordered 300 million.
The U.K., Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, and Latin America excluding Brazil have each confirmed orders of at least 100 million doses.